‘Back from the brink’: Djokovic relies on mental edge

  • David Cox

It is a testament to the sheer willpower of Novak Djokovic that time and time again, the Serb finds a path through the most testing of adversities on the greatest stages of all.

Whether it be an inspired opponent, a hostile crowd, or wilting energy levels, Djokovic has been there and experienced it all in majors over the past 12 years. But even he admitted he was pushed to the very limit by Dominic Thiem in Sunday’s late-night thriller, coming from two sets to one down for the first time in a Grand Slam final to clinch an epic contest.

MORE: Djokovic topples Thiem to win eighth AO title

“I was on the brink of losing the match,” admitted Djokovic, who described the contest as “turbulent”. 

“After I lost the second set, I start to feel really bad on the court. My energy dropped significantly. Kind of regained my energy and strength midway in the fourth set and got back into the match. After that in the fifth set, it was anybody's game, really. I knew that very early in the fifth set it was crucial for me to make a break. I had that mental edge again, and that was enough to win it.”

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Sunday's final was won by Djokovic's brain as much as his body

Djokovic, a player who has revolutionised the way tennis players have approached their health and wellbeing over the past decade, admitted he was stunned to find himself wilting as Thiem took a shock two sets to one lead.

“To be honest, 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,” the bemused Serb told reporters. 

“Apparently the doctor said I wasn't hydrated enough. I was a bit shocked that I did feel that way because everything was fine before the match.

“But it's something that you have to accept that you're going through. Those kind of circumstances really kind of force me to let things go and to really try to be in the moment and fight my way back.”

MORE: Novak edges closer to the pinnacle

But having saved break point on his serve early in the fourth set, Djokovic said he felt he began to accelerate more on his serve as well as move better, putting more doubt in the mind of Thiem. He also revealed that he deliberately tried to serve and volley at crucial times to throw the Austrian off his rhythm, a tactic which worked successfully both in the fourth and fifth sets.

He was quick to pay tribute to Thiem, who has been inspired over the past fortnight, confirming that the Austrian is well and truly a contender for Grand Slam glory, even away from his beloved clay.

“Dominic is a fantastic tennis player that plays with tremendous amount of power in his shots, especially from the forehand side,” said Djokovic. 

“He uses his slice really well. He disrupted my rhythm in my game at one point. He was a better player. 

“Probably one point and one shot separated us tonight. Could have gone a different way.”