Djokovic relieved after hard-fought Australian Open final win over Thiem
Novak Djokovic felt he came within one shot of losing an Australian Open final for the first time in a “turbulent” five-set battle against Dominic Thiem.
Djokovic wrote new history for himself by fighting back from two sets to one down to win 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 and extend his record for titles won at Melbourne Park to eight.
The Serbian now has 17 slam titles, only three short of record holder Roger Federer, and will reclaim the world number one ranking from Rafael Nadal on Monday, while he also became the first man in the Open era to win slams across three decades.
But it could have been so different had Thiem, playing in his third grand slam final, capitalised on the momentum he had at the end of the third set.
Djokovic, rattled by successive time violations when he dropped serve at 4-4 in the second set, went on to lose six games in a row and consulted the doctor at 4-1 down in the third.
Thiem had a break point in the third game of the fourth but Djokovic saved it with a bold serve-and-volley and turned the match back around in his favour.
Asked to describe the contest, he said with a wry smile: “Turbulent. It started off really well. I felt the experience on my side playing many Australian Open finals.
“I played a bad game at the beginning of the second. After I lost the second set, I started to feel really bad on the court. My energy dropped significantly.
“I don’t still understand the reason why that has happened because I’ve been doing the things that I’ve been doing before all of my matches. I was hydrated well and everything. The doctor said I wasn’t hydrated enough.
“I kind of regained my energy and strength midway in the fourth set and got back into the match. I was on the brink of losing.
“Dominic is a fantastic tennis player that plays with a tremendous amount of power in his shots, especially from the forehand side. He uses his slice really well. He disrupted my rhythm at one point.
“He was the better player. Probably one point and one shot separated us tonight. It could have gone a different way.”
Djokovic was critical of umpire Damien Dumusois for giving him the second violation, resulting in a loss of both the Serbian’s first serve and his cool.
On the way back to his seat he tapped Dumusois on the foot, saying: “You’ve made yourself famous, well done.”
“I thought that the second violation was not necessary,” said Djokovic. “The first one, fine, no problem.
“The second one, it’s just not necessary under the circumstances for an experienced chair umpire.
“Touching his shoe, I didn’t know that’s completely forbidden. I thought it was a nice, really friendly touch. Verbally we did have some exchanges, but no insults. I want to thank him for not giving me a warning.”
Djokovic again wore a jacket bearing the initials and shirt numbers of his friend Kobe Bryant a week after he was killed in a helicopter crash along with daughter Gianna.
The Serbian remembered the basketball superstar in his on-court speech and later told Channel Nine: “I’ve been watching videos of Kobe and everything that involves Kobe and his family for every single day since that happened.
“It’s devastating. It’s a huge tragedy. But, at the same time, his legacy will live forever.”
Thiem must have thought he was about to become the first of the younger generation finally to win a slam only to find the door slammed shut, as it was by Nadal in both of his French Open finals.
Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have won the last 13 slams between them but, with Daniil Medvedev also pushing Nadal to five sets at the US Open, a new era is edging closer.
Thiem had no regrets, saying: “In the last two sets, I definitely gave everything I had. Novak is part of three guys who are by far the best players ever who played tennis.
“If you play a grand slam final against him, it’s always going to be a match where very small details are deciding it.
“If I could say anything, I would just say that maybe I could have converted the break point in the fourth set. He recovered very well. He played really good after in set three and four.
“These guys brought tennis to a completely new level. They also brought me probably to a much better level. Of course, it would be easier in a different era to win big titles.
“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.”
Thiem defeated Nadal in four sets in an intense quarter-final before battling past Alexander Zverev in the last four, and went into the match having spent nearly six hours longer on court than Djokovic.
“I’ve rarely felt physically that tired,” said the 26-year-old Austrian. “I just feel a lot of emptiness right now. But I know the feeling. I did after the last two in Paris. But already now I feel a little bit of motivation to come back for the next grand slam.”