Novak Djokovic looked worried and worn out. He was feeling some vertigo and was at a disadvantage against Dominic Thiem in the Australian Open final.
His mistakes were piling up and the deficit was growing.
But the Serb did what he usually does. He refused to lose, waited for an opportunity and found his best tennis when it was absolutely necessary.
On two occasions, when facing break point, he resolved the situation with serve and volley.
After regaining energy and precision, Djokovic even showed some creativity. He beat Austrian Dominic Thiem 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Sunday to win his eighth Australian Open title and 17th Grand Slam title.
“I was about to lose this game … I did not feel very well,” acknowledged Djokovic who requested medical attention on several occasions. “My energy had completely collapsed.”
However, Djokovic improved to an impressive 16-0 from his combined record in the semi-finals and finals at Melbourne Park, and made sure to regain top spot in the world rankings, displacing Rafael Nadal.
No man in tennis history has won this hard court contest more than six times. Only Roger Federer, with 20, and the Spaniard Nadal, with 19, hold more Grand Slam trophies than Djokovic in the men’s branch.
“It is an amazing achievement. It doesn’t seem real what you’ve done all these years, ”he told Djokovic Thiem, who instead has lost all three of his majors finals. “I think you and two other guys have taken tennis to a whole new level.”
Djokovic adds this victory to his five Wimbledon titles, three from the US Open and one from the French Open.
The two finalists referenced the devastating fires that have killed dozens of people and millions of animals in Australia. Djokovic also mentioned the recent death of former NBA star Kobe Bryant and his daughter in a helicopter crash.
At one point, Djokovic looked at Thiem and said: “It wasn’t going to be tonight. Bad luck… You were very close to winning, and you definitely have a lot to come in your career. I’m sure you will definitely get a Grand Slam trophy, more than one.
Just over six months after saving a pair of match points against Federer to win an epic Wimbledon final in five sets, Djokovic once again showed that he never gives up.
The triumph did not come easy for the 32-year-old Serbian. He lost six games in a row during one stretch of the match to Thiem, who plays in a similar style, from the baseline, and knocked out Nadal in the quarterfinals.
Djokovic was behind by two sets to one. He was visited by a doctor and a kinesiologist in the third set and, desperate to hydrate, he drank bottles of water and energizing liquid.
Angry, he made a claim to the chair umpire that made him lose a serve for exceeding the time available to perform it.
He wasn’t the dominant Djokovic who made an incredible total of just nine unforced errors during his straight-sets win over Nadal in the final a year ago. Djokovic surpassed that number only in the first set of Sunday’s game, and totaled 57.
It was a physical challenge, in which there were several exciting exchanges. Sixty-one points required at least nine strokes for each tennis player.
“It was very demanding,” Thiem said. “Of course, now I feel empty.”
In two key moments, Djokovic abandoned his usual script and attacked the net after the serve as he faced a break point. He did it at 2-1 during the fourth set and with the same advantage in the fifth.
Both times he was successful.
“It is not something characteristic of me,” he said. “In a way, I played it all or nothing.”
With strategy, Djokovic took a 5-3 lead in the fourth set, helped by a faulty volley to the net tape, a double foul and a bad backhand from the Austrian.
Ultimately, the Serbian managed to seize a trophy that he also won in 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2019.
The 26-year-old Thiem lost the final to Nadal at Rolan Garros in each of the previous two years. He wanted to be the first man born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam title.
Instead, the “Big Three” (Federer, Nadal and Djokovic) have won 13 consecutive majors titles and 56 of the last 67.
“It’s unique in the history of the sport that these three players, the best by far, are playing in the same era,” said Thiem. “That’s what makes it extremely difficult for other tennis players to have a chance.” ap