A defiant Novak Djokovic claimed an unprecedented eighth Australian Open men’s singles title with a typically tenacious 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 triumph against Dominic Thiem on Sunday night to defend his title.
The Serbian is the first man in the Open Era to win Grand Slam singles titles across three decades, and will be rewarded by returning to the world No.1 ranking on Monday.
By lifting his 17th major over four hours of play, Djokovic edges closer to all-time leaders Roger Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (19).
“This is definitely my favourite court, my favourite stadium in the world and I’m blessed to hold this trophy once again,” said Djokovic, who was adamant Thiem will join the Roll of Honour one day.
“I would like to congratulate Dominic on an amazing tournament, it wasn’t meant to be tonight. But you were very close to winning.
“You definitely have a lot more time in your career and I’m sure you’ll get more than one Grand Slam trophy in your career.”
Just after the coin toss, the INXS song ‘New Sensation’ boomed out around a packed Rod Laver Arena.
The question was, could Thiem become the new sensation in men’s tennis to loosen the grip of the ‘Big Three’ on the major prizes?
Chasing history and knowing the world No.1 ranking would return next to his name with the win, Djokovic played glorious tennis in the opening exchanges.
In a service box battle of touch and angles, Djokovic prevailed in a miraculous point to prompt his ardent supporters to leap to their feet.
The Serbian skipped back to the baseline having dinked a deft dropshot over the net, his confidence sky-high as he raced 3-0 ahead.
Thiem, the world No.5, had defeated Djokovic in four of their previous five matches, including a three-set stormer at the ATP Finals in London in November. After a shaky start, it took 19 minutes for the Australian Open final debutant to finally ping a game onto the scoreboard.
Some stellar net play, a bit more conviction on his strokes and a rocket inside-out forehand pushed Thiem level for 4-4, but it wasn’t for long.
The Austrian gifted away his next service game, a double fault the final point as the crowd feared a runaway takeover the defending champion.
Djokovic had a 66-2 win-loss record at the Australian Open in contests when he took the first set, however, it was soon the Serbian’s turn for his serve to wilt. Thiem broke for 2-1, as an agitated Djokovic sat at the changeover pointing at his head, demanding focus.
In symmetry to the first set, the reigning champion drew the set level at four apiece. Djokovic’s determined scrambling was undone in the very next game, with a brace of double faults and a fizzing Thiem forehand giving the No.5 seed the platform to serve out the set.
Thiem had played six extra hours than his opponent prior to the final, but was looking far fresher. Djokovic was lethargic, whilst Thiem persisted with the power play.
Two hours on the clock clicked over and Thiem wound up his backhand to arrow a winner down the line with sidespin, stamping his authority on the silverware showdown.
Six games in succession did the damage, and the 26-year-old eventually closed out a tetchy game to send Djokovic into unchartered territory. The seven-time champion had never trailed two sets to one in any of his previous seven finals at Melbourne Park.
In the fourth set, Djokovic relied on a couple of punchy serve and volley points to fend off the break at 1-1, and there was a sense the Serbian was biding his time for a chance, making a stand in some gruelling rallies.
At 3-2, Thiem connected with two dig volleys, lunging down to shin-level in a highlight-reel rally to boost a hold. However, the danger signs were there and an error-strewn service game opened the door for the defending champion.
A Djokovic hold to love, and suddenly a fifth set was called.
The usual Djokovic gladiatorial instincts kicked in, providing a wall of resistance to tease the errors from Thiem’s racquet for an early 2-1 break.
Mixing up the pace and direction, Thiem earned two opportunities to restore parity, but Djokovic was in lockdown, and the 32-year-old soared to another major step in Melbourne.
The Big Three – Djokovic, Federer and Nadal – have now annexed the past 13 majors between them, Stan Wawrinka’s 2016 US Open victory the most recent win by a player outside of the three most successful men in tennis history.
Thiem, bidding to become the first new major winner since Marin Cilic at the 2014 US Open, lost in a Grand Slam final for the third time, after defeats at Roland Garros in 2018 and 2019.
“Huge congrats to Novak, an unreal achievement,” said the gracious runner-up.
“You have helped to raise the level, and I’m proud and happy I can compete in this time and period of tennis.
“I fell a bit short today, but I hope soon I can get my revenge.”
Yet again, men’s tennis will have to wait for the ‘New Sensation.’