Entering the Australian Open final, Novak Djokovic was a whopping 16-9 inGrand Slam finals. His opponent, Dominic Thiem, was merely 0-2. Djokovic is an all-time great, hot on the heels of the records currently held by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Thiem is a strong 26-year-old waiting for his first real breakthrough.
There were signs for Thiem, though, that this year was finally going to be different. First of all, he ended 2019 as the hottest player on tour, winning the 500 event in Vienna and then the ATP Finals–which included a win over Djokovic. More important, though, is what Thiem did in his quarterfinal here. Both of his prior Grand Slam final losses came against Rafael Nadal–at the French Open each of the past two years. The Austrian avenged those losses in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, taking out Rafael Nadal in four sets by winning three strong tiebreaks. In fact, Thiem won five tiebreak sets in his quarterfinal and semifinal matches, an impressive stat in its own right.
What would happen in the final, though? Was Thiem ready to fully step up to the pressure? Would Djokovic even give him an opportunity to? And if Thiem was in a stressful position with a chance to win, would he be able to hold his nerves and come through? There were certainly some signs of vulnerability for Djokovic earlier in the tournament–like his opening match against Jan-Lennard Struff. Still, he came nowhere near losing a match, and his top level is all but unbeatable in Melbourne. What did the final have in store?
Dominic Thiem vs Novak Djokovic
First two sets
Thiem opened the match a little tight, and Djokovic looked to be in impressive form. The Austrian managed to get himself in decent position in his service games, but he couldn’t close them out. Time after time, Thiem would squander break points before heading to deuce, and Djokovic won an early break and jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead. Even though the Serbian was in every single Thiem service game, he couldn’t extend that lead. After a quick poor service game from Djokovic and a few Thiem holds, we were back at 4-4.
Then, as a champion like Djokovic is wont to do, he struck. Once again, while serving down 4-5, Thiem was unable to convert a game point. Two unforced errors and an untimely double fault later, and Djokovic had the first set 6-4.
The second set was somewhat of a mirror image of the first, though with some added drama. Thiem got an early break, and seemed to be holding serve much more easily. He played one poor game to get broken back, though, and Djokovic unleashed a roar as he broke for 4-4. In the following service game, Djokovic was hit with two time violations for the serve clock running out. He was clearly agitated, got broken, and then Thiem held to take his own 6-4 set.
Third and fourth sets
Things didn’t get better for Djokovic from there. He got broken twice to start the third set, meaning that Thiem won a total of six straight matches since Djokovic earned back the break in the second set. The Serbian also seemed to have some sort of physical issue, as he tried to shorten points and even had the doctor on court. Djokovic did manage to hold twice, but Thiem didn’t falter. He showed some nerves and had to fight through a few deuces and break points, but he still served out the set at 6-2.
Djokovic took a medical break to start the fourth set, which wasn’t a great sign. He was able to keep hitting first serves, though, and held without too much trouble. The nerves clearly began to get to Thiem, and he played a poor game to give away the break while serving down 4-3. A quick hold later, and we were going five.
The Djokovic serve stayed strong early, and Thiem played another poor service game his second time at the line. Suddenly, Djokovic had a 2-1 lead and was four holds away from another title. Thiem’s nerves were still clearly affecting him–he was going for his shots, but hitting them nowhere near as consistently as usual. Thiem was fighting for every service game, but as long as Djokovic’s serve was staying strong, there wasn’t much he could do. The first serve deserted the Serbian a bit in the 4-3 game, but he managed to hold anyway.
Thiem had one final chance to force Djokovic to serve the match out, and he took it easily. In one of his less stressful service game of the match, Thiem held at 15 to take the set to 5-4.
Djokovic is an all-time great for a reason, though. Nerves must have surely been bothering him, but he didn’t show it. His first serves kept coming in, and there wasn’t much Thiem could do. The Austrian fought to the very end, but he had no answers. It took five sets and almost four hours, but Novak Djokovic became an eight-time Australian Open champion.
Thiem now sits at 0-3 in Grand Slam finals, and may start doubting when his time will finally come. He’s clearly one of the best few players in the world, but the inability to get over the Major hump has to weigh on him. Andy Murray managed to win three Majors after a similar start to his Grand Slam career, so hope isn’t lost. Still, it must be disheartening.
Novak Djokovic is now sitting at 17 overall Major championships, two behind Rafael Nadal and three behind Roger Federer. He will be one of the top two favorites at every Major tournament, and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. Will he surpass Federer’s total when all is said and done? As of now, it looks like it. And his record of eight Australian Opens will remain unmatched for a long, long time–potentially forever.
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