The defending champion Novak Djokovic battled through a five-set thriller with Dominic Thiem to maintain his dominance at the Australian Open for his eighth title in Melbourne, a record, a feat which returned him to the top of the rankings at the expense of Rafa Nadal.
You know, you definitely have a lot more time in your career and I'm sure that you will get one of the Grand Slam trophies. And more. More than one Novak Djokovic
The Serb had to rally from two sets to one down to beat the determined fifth-seeded Austrian 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 in a four-hour marathon.
It was his 17th Grand Slam title, moving him within two of Rafael Nadal and three of Roger Federer on the all-time list.
“Definitely my favourite court, my favourite stadium in the world and I’m blessed to hold this trophy once again,” said Djokovic who seemed to have the population of Serbia both inside and outside the Arena rooting him on with chants of his nickname – ‘Nole, Nole, Nole’.
Victory put him alongside his fellow legends as only the third man in history to win eight or more titles at the same Slam after Nadal (12 at the French Open) and Federer (eight at Wimbledon).
After a good start Djokovic’s form dropped off and he looked lethargic and out of sorts and by the end of the third set, very much heading towards defeat.
After a medical time out, he regained his composure and set about taking back control when he managed to hold serve in the opening moments of the fourth which, as far as Thiem was concerned, proved the turning point. Had he made that initial service break, the story might well have had a different ending.
But one thing in Thiem’s favour was the fact that Djokovic had never won a slam final when two sets to one down, but he was unable to make the most of the momentum he had created.
“You and two other guys (Nadal and Federer) brought men’s tennis to another level. I am happy I can compete in these times,” said Thiem, playing his third grand slam final having lost two against Nadal in Paris.
The Serb, 32, was the overwhelming favourite, but the supremely fit and fast Thiem, 26, always had the weapons to trouble him, which he deployed successfully for much of the match, taming his serve and unleashing some explosive groundstrokes.
“It wasn’t meant to be tonight,” Djokovic told Thiem. “Tough luck. It was a tough match. But you were very close to winning it.
“You know, you definitely have a lot more time in your career and I’m sure that you will get one of the Grand Slam trophies. And more. More than one.”
Thiem acknowledged his situation telling his vanquisher: “Huge congrats to Novak. Amazing what you are doing through all these years. I’m really proud and happy that I can compete in these times. I fell a little bit short today. There are way more important things in life. It is really tough what this beautiful country is going through. I hope a disaster like [the continuing bushfires] never happens again.”
While Djokovic realised his dream and shattered those of Thiem Dominic, the Austrian has in fact laid down a strong marker that he will be pushing the Big Three this year. Between them they may have won the last 13 grand slams but that could well be coming to an end.