It used to be thought that beating Rafael Nadal on clay at Roland-Garros was the toughest task in tennis. But perhaps beating Novak Djokovic on the hard courts at the Australian Open comes in a close second.
Unbeatable Djokovic wins in Australia again
Serb beats Thiem in five sets to clinch 17th slam title
For the eighth time, Djokovic clinched the title in Melbourne, this time after a gruelling battle with Austrian Dominic Thiem on a cool Sunday night at Melbourne Park.
Trailing two sets to one and struggling with what he was told was dehydration, Djokovic somehow recovered and summoned up the internal strength that has made him such a champion to earn a 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.
HE'S STILL THE KING OF MELBOURNE ! @DjokerNole wins a 5 sets thriller (6-4, 4-6,, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4) against @ThiemDomi to lift the his 8th @AustralianOpen 🏆 ! Well done champion ! pic.twitter.com/TsShEchYCt— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) February 2, 2020
His win gives him a 17th Grand Slam title, three behind Roger Federer and within two of Rafael Nadal. He has won five of the past seven Grand Slams, five since turning 30 and he has now won at least one singles title in each of the past 15 years.
“Tonight it was a toe to toe battle,” he told Australia’s Channel 9. “I was on the brink of losing that match. I didn’t feel great. I had a couple of points, I think a break point in the fourth set, where I played serve and volley. It was kind of a courageous move, throwing it all in there, get things going. Unfortunately one of us had to lose but all respect to Dominic.
“I didn’t have any injuries but my energy just completely collapsed. Every time I would toss a ball, I would feel dizzy. I was lucky. From 2-2 in the fourth, I started to feel better. The doctor said maybe I had a couple of issues, I tried to get as many energy gels as I could. She told me I was dehydrated, so I tried to drink as much as I could.”
For Thiem it was a third loss in three Grand Slam finals, having come off second-best against Rafael Nadal in each of the past two Roland-Garros finals.
But he will take enormous confidence from the way he matches and at times outplayed Djokovic on his favourite court in the world.
In the second set, as Djokovic’s energy levels began to dip, Thiem began to dominate from the baseline with his heavy groundstrokes, keeping his cool as Djokovic lost his rag over two time violations, even patting the foot of the umpire at a change of ends before leaving him in doubt as to how he was feeling.
As Djokovic hung his head, Thiem moved ahead two sets to one but Djokovic rebounded and when he saved a break point in the third game of the fourth, he grew in confidence, almost visibly.
“If I could say anything, I would just say that maybe I could have converted the break point in the fourth set where I could have the lead 2-1,” he said. “I think he had some issues in the second set. He recovered very well. He played really good after in set three and four. Of course, there were some small mistakes here and there, but they're happening. At the end was a super close five-setter. I don't really regret anything.”
Djokovic still had to work in the final set, saving break points in two service games but he held on to win for an eighth time and claim his 78th singles title, one better than John McEnroe.
He will return to world No 1 for a 276th week at the top when the rankings are officially updated on Monday and his goals for the future are obvious.
“It is my goal to win as many Grand Slam titles as possible, at this stage in my career, that is what matters to me,” Djokovic said.
“I would definitely want to play for many more years, focusing mostly on the Grand Slams. In order to have a chance for the historic No 1, I am going to do everything possible this season and next season, that’s what I can devote to this goal.”
Thiem, meanwhile, will lick his wounds for a while but head to Paris in May, and to tournaments before then, with a renewed belief that his time will come, even in an era when Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won 56 of the last 67 Grand Slams.
“These guys brought tennis to a completely new level,” Thiem said. “They also brought me probably to a much better level.
“Of course, it was easier for sure in a different era to win big titles. That's 100 percent. But I'm happy I can compete with these guys on the best level. I really hope also that I win my maiden Slam when they're still around because it just counts more.”