Wizard of Oz: Djokovic stages fightback to beat Thiem and win record-extending EIGHTH Australian Open
Novak Djokovic staged a stunning fightback to defeat Dominic Thiem in a five-set thriller and win a record-extending eighth Australian Open title.
The Serbian second seed battled injury and fatigue in Melbourne, coming back to beat Austria's Thiem in five sets, 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4, and win a 17th Grand Slam title overall.
As he has done so often down the years, Djokovic, 32, showed remarkable resilience in coming off the ropes against his 26-year-old opponent, at one stage calling for the doctor while also limping on court.
However, Djokovic eventually prevailed to ensure he has won an incredible eight out of eight finals he has contested in Melbourne.
For Thiem it was yet more disappointment in a Grand Slam final, after he finished runner-up to Rafael Nadal at the French Open in 2018 and 2019.
After sealing victory in the season-opening Grand Slam – which made him the first man to win Major titles across three decades in the Open era – Djokovic paid tribute to the beaten Thiem, saying: "Congratulations to Dominic for an amazing tournament, it was a tough match but you were very close to winning it. You have a lot more time in your career and I am sure you will get Grand Slam trophies.”
The Serb went on to discuss the Australian bushfires which have ravaged large parts of the country, while also remembering his late friend, the basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash last weekend.
"There were some devastating things that started 2020, bushfires here in Australia, conflicts in parts of the world, one person that I considered close in my life and was a mentor to me, Kobe Bryant, passed away,” Djokovic added.
"I would like to say that this is a reminder to all of us we should stick together more than ever, be with our families, stay close to the people that love you, that care about you, there are more important things in life and it is important to be conscious and humble about things happening around you.”
In a tense, rollercoaster encounter in Melbourne, it was Djokovic who began the quicker, breaking Thiem at the first attempt in a ferocious start as the he opened up a 3-0 lead in the first set.
However, the Austrian gained a foothold himself by breaking back, only to undo his good work when serving at 5-4 down, double-faulting to gift Djokovic the first set.
That appeared ominous for Thiem in the face of a fired-up Djokovic and febrile atmosphere at Rod Laver Arena, but surprisingly it was Djokovic who faltered first in the second set, double faulting in game three to hand Thiem a break.
Djokovic suddenly seemed unsettled as Thiem’s supporters among the crowd increasingly found their voice.
Thiem saved a break point at 3-2 up but Djokovic did break back on the Austrian’s next service game, as a sloppy backhand allowed the Serb to level the set at 4-4.
But just as Djokovic seemed to be regaining focus after his early wobble in the set, Thiem broke again immediately before serving out the set 6-4 to put things all-square.
An angry Djokovic – who had already let rip at the crowd for making noise during a point – appeared unhappy at being handed time violations for not serving quickly enough, giving umpire Damien Dumusois a sarcastic tap on the shoe as he made his way to the chair.
Things got worse for a riled Djokovic in the third set as Thiem broke him twice without reply to open up a 4-0 lead.
After Djokovic held serve to reduce the deficit to 4-1, the Serb then called the doctor out as he appeared increasingly drained in what seemed a continuation of the stomach issues he had suffered earlier in the tournament.
Djokovic continued to appear weary while also limping on court, and while he battled on to earn a break point on Thiem’s serve at 5-2, the Austrian duly held his nerve to seal the set and open up a 2-1 lead.
But just as Djokovic has shown so many times down the years, you can never count him out and so that proved again as he dragged himself off the ropes in set four.
The Serb broke Thiem in game eight, going on to serve it out to take the set 6-3 and send things to a decisive fifth set as an epic unfolded under the lights in Melbourne.
With renewed movement and ruthlessness, Djokovic was in suddenly back in the groove, breaking Thiem in game three and putting himself in the driving seat.
The Austrian struggled to hold serve and stay in the match as Djokovic hustled and harried, but Thiem did save a crucial break point at 4-2 down.
It merely staved off the Djokovic onslaught however as the Serb continued his march to yet another title, taking the fifth set 6-4.
The victory edges Djokovic closer to Swiss legend Roger Federer’s record haul of 20 Grand Slam titles, as the dominance of the ‘Big Three’ in the men’s game continues.
Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have now won 13 Grand Slams in a row between them – although Sunday was very much about the Serb and his remarkable resilience, as with the win he also reclaimed the world number one spot from Spanish rival Nadal.