By Pritha Sarkar
PARIS (Reuters) - The French Open was lambasted as "one big circus" by Tomas Berdych on Thursday as soggy weather once again exasperated players seeking a foothold in the semi-finals of the rain-hit claycourt major.
Novak Djokovic was lucky to escape being defaulted and Austrian tyro Dominic Thiem provided plenty of entertainment as they finally caught up with the bottom half of the men's draw by setting up a cross-generational semi-final.
With Andy Murray and defending champion Stan Wawrinka enjoying a welcome rest day after booking their last-four showdown a day earlier, world number one Djokovic was back on court for a third day running and again had to dodge the showers as he sealed a 6-3 7-5 6-3 win over a fuming Berdych.
Only a few hundred shivering spectators felt able to brave a gloomy Court Suzanne Lenglen -- which can seat more than 10,000 -- to watch 13th seed Thiem's racket skills. The 22-year-old reached the last four of a major for the first time with a 4-6 7-6(7) 6-4 6-1 win over Belgium's David Goffin.
Serena Williams dropped her first set of the tournament and came within two games of defeat before ramming home her title credentials with a 5-7 6-4 6-1 victory over little-known Kazakh Yulia Putintseva.
"I didn't think I was going to win that but somehow I did," the hugely relieved 21-times grand slam champion said after booking a semi-final with Dutch outsider Kiki Bertens, who beat Swiss eighth seed Timea Bacsinszky 7-5 6-2.
JOIE DE VIVRE FIZZLES OUT
A week of wet weather and chilly temperatures -- with the mercury topping out at 14 degrees Celsius on Thursday -- has robbed the tournament of its usual joie de vivre.
Hence it was little wonder that the smallest of incidents could tip players over the edge.
Djokovic was fortunate that a moment of petulance midway through the third set did not scupper his chances of winning the only grand slam title missing from his collection.
The top seed admitted he was lucky he did not injure a linesman after he slammed his racket to the ground and it went flying into the baseline hoardings. Had it hit anyone, it would have been an automatic default.
"I threw a racket on the ground and it slipped and almost hit the line umpire. I was lucky there," the 29-year-old Serb said after reaching his 30th grand slam semi-final.
But Djokovic's momentary rage was nothing compared to how angry Berdych felt a few games later.
The Czech seventh seed lost his cool when Australian official Wayne McEwen ordered play to be halted after Djokovic grumbled about the misty conditions.
As the Serbian sauntered off court, Berdych shouted: "This is a circus. An absolute circus. We've been playing two and half sets like that."
The Czech had a point.
Following Monday's complete washout, Berdych and Djokovic were among several competitors ordered to play their fourth-round matches through drizzle on Tuesday as organizers tried to clear a huge backlog.
For Berdych, that made Thursday's 10-minute break seem rather farcical.
"That was one of the worst calls that I ever had on the court," Berdych said after slipping to his 11th successive defeat against Djokovic.
"We had been playing two-and-a-half sets in light rain... I was close and having my chances.
"Then all of a sudden the decision (to stop the match). You have to take a break, take all the stuff, go in, then go out again a few minutes later. "What's the point of this? The court won't get better. It will only get worse."
Djokovic, who has played through rain in each of his last three matches, said there was only one way to draw a line under the issue -- the French Open should follow the other three grand slams in getting a retractable roof over its main showcourt.
"I'm just hoping that for the sake of this tournament and all the players that we are going to have that roof at least on one court as soon as possible."
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by John Stonestreet)