Standing firm: Djokovic fights back to win record eighth Australian Open crown as the Big Three’s Grand Slam dominance continues
Novak Djokovic fought his way through a challenging match on Sunday to defeat Austrian rising-star Dominic Thiem and win a record-extending eighth Australian Open crown and a 17th grand slam overall. Alex Grant reports.
In a match between the young and the old, Djokovic was forced into showing his best tennis as he dug deep to stop a comeback from Thiem, winning 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 after a gruelling four hours of action.
Djokovic, who has never lost an Australian Open final, started the match like a man determined to keep that record intact racing into an early 3-0 lead and, despite a mid-set fight back from Thiem, soon had the first set wrapped up 6-4 and seemed to be well on his way to an eighth Australian crown.
However, Thiem was not about to roll over – aided by a tactical change up that saw the Austrian sitting deeper to allow himself more time on the return, he forced his way in front with a break in the third game of the second set. The set continued to follow serve for the next few games until a few wayward Thiem backhands at 4-3 gifted Djokovic the break to level the set up at 4-4. Despite this, Djokovic soon lost his cool, with the Serbian receiving two time violations for taking too long in-between serves, with the second resulting in a loss of first serve at break point down. With the world number two distracted, Thiem took full advantage to regain the break before holding serve to level the match up at one set apiece.
Clearly still agitated by the time violations and the crowd’s rather vocal support of the Austrian, Djokovic struggled to regain his early match form with Thiem racing into a 4-0 double break lead in the third set. The Serbian soon restored some order with a service hold before surprisingly calling for the doctor, confusing many as the Serb had shown no signs of carrying a knock and did not appear to receive any treatment.
Back on court the rest of the set continued on serve with Thiem repelling some late pressure from Djokovic to serve out the set 6-2 and leave him just one set away from a maiden Grand Slam title.
As the set concluded, the doctor once again returned, with Djokovic this time leaving the court to receive a medical timeout.
Upon returning from a near five minute break and with no sign of any discomfort, Djokovic got straight back down to business with a hold of serve to start off the fourth set. Thiem responded with a service hold of his own before forcing break points in the Serbian’s next service game, with the match potentially on the line. However, Djokovic stood tall employing a surprise serve and volley tactic to great effect to snuff out the chance. A couple of points later and the game belonged to the world number two with the help of a fortunate net cord.
The set continued to go with serve until the eighth game when an array of errors from Thiem gift-wrapped a break, leaving Djokovic with the chance to serve for the set. This was a chance that the Serbian duly took, holding to love and forcing the first Grand Slam final of the new decade into a fifth and deciding set.
Both men opened the deciding set with a hold of serve each but it was soon time for Djokovic to seize the initiative as three consecutive forehand errors from Thiem once again gifted away the break of serve. Not to be disheartened, however, the Austrian fought straight back twice earning himself break point with some monstrous hitting from the back of the court. Djokovic once more though showed his metal, saving both break points before securing the hold as another wayward Thiem groundstroke flew long. A slight opening at 4-3 aside, those were to be the final chances for the Austrian as Djokovic held firm, serving the match out and claiming a record-extending eighth victory at Melbourne Park.
Victory also saw Djokovic move to 17 career Grand Slams overall, moving him closer to Rafael Nadal’s 19 major titles and Roger Federer’s record haul of 20, meaning that tennis’ top three are now separated by just three major titles. Nadal’s defeat at the quarter-final stage in Melbourne coupled with the Serbian winning the title also sees Djokovic once again return to the ranking of world number one.
Speaking to the arena immediately after the match, Djokovic was quick to praise his opponent:
“Congratulations to Dominic for an amazing tournament. It wasn’t meant to be tonight,” Djokovic said.
“Tough luck and it was a tough match. You were very close to winning it. You definitely have a lot more time in your career and I am sure you will get one of the grand slam trophies. And more than one!”
The 32-year-old also used the opportunity to pay tribute to basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who was tragically killed in a helicopter crash last Sunday:
“There were some devastating things that started 2020 with huge bushfires here in Australia, conflicts in some parts of the world. One person that I considered close in my life, a mentor to me, Kobe Bryant, passed away with his daughter.
“I would like to say that this is a reminder to all of us that we should stick together more than ever. Of course we are part of professional sport but obviously there are more important things in life.”
For Thiem, defeat in his third Grand Slam final gives the 26-year-old an unwanted three for three record, having come runner-up at the last two French Opens, losing both times to Rafael Nadal. Forever classy in defeat, however, the Austrian was quick to praise the dominance of the Big Three of Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer, whilst vowing to come back fighting, commenting:
“Unreal what you are doing through all these years. You and two other guys have brought men’s tennis to a completely new level. I am really proud and happy that I can compete in this period of tennis. I fell a little bit short today, but I hope that I can soon get revenge.”
Djokovic’s latest triumph means that the last 13 Grand Slams have now been won by one of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer with the last major victories outside of those three coming from Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, who came away victorious at the 2016 Wimbledon and US Open championships respectively. The Big Three have in fact now shared 52 of the last 60 grand slam titles (dating back to 2005), with Murray and Wawrinka (three majors each), and Juan Martín Del Potro and Marin Čilić (one major each) being the only others to have tasted Grand Slam glory in the interim.
It has been tennis dominance the likes of which has never been seen before, but with Djokovic, Nadal and Federer aged 32, 33 and 38 respectively, it is dominance that is expected to end sooner rather than later. In the mean time, however, these three legends of the game will be working as hard as ever to ensure that they continue adding to their already impressive title hauls.