Australian Open final: Thiem not buying into recent success over Djokovic

andrew hendrie:

Dominic Thiem may have a winning record over Novak Djokovic when it comes to their last five matches, but the Austrian says that almost counts for nothing heading into Sunday night’s Australian Open final.

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After losing his first five matches to Djokovic between 2014-17, Thiem has won four of their last five encounters, including their last meeting on hardcourt at the ATP Finals just two months ago.

Confident and operating at the peak of his powers after back-to-back four-set victories over World No. 1 Rafael Nadal and seventh seed Alexander Zverev to reach his first Grand Slam final outside of Roland Garros, Thiem is undoubtedly playing career-best tennis right now – but he’s also aware that Djokovic is simply a different beast at Melbourne Park.

Preview: Thiem vs Djokovic for the Australian Open title

The Serbian is a perfect 7-0 in Australian Open finals and is 12-0 to start 2020, with his only set dropped for the tournament coming against Jan-Lennard Struff in the first round.

“I won more of the last encounters than he did. But I think it doesn’t count so much. It’s absolutely his comfort zone here. He always plays his best tennis in Australia since many, many years. So I’m expecting that as well in the final,” Thiem said.

“All I can do is my best again, playing great tennis again, and of course take a look at the past matches we had as well in Paris and also London, try to repeat the good stuff that I did there.”

As he mentioned, Thiem will draw on his two Roland Garros wins over Djokovic and his ATP Finals triumph in November, which was one of the best matches of 2019.

Read more: Djokovic and Thiem by the numbers

The World No. 5 also knows he has elevated his game on hardcourt to the point where he can hang with the likes of Djokovic, winning his maiden Masters 1000 title in Indian Wells last year, along with capturing 500 silverware in Beijing and Vienna and finishing runner-up at the season-ending championships in London.

Dominic Thiem (PA Images)

“Indian Wells, that victory gave me so much relief and so much confidence because [I] finally got my first Masters 1000 title on hard court,” Thiem said.

“Then I think last fall in Asia, then in the indoor season, I made this huge step forward. I really developed my game I think in the right direction. I got more aggressive on hard courts, started to serve smarter and to return better.

“That also gave me a lot of confidence for this new year and for Australia because I told myself, ‘If I can be in the finals in London, the [Nitto] ATP Finals, why not as well in a hard-court Slam?’ Since then I know that I’m also playing very well on the faster surfaces.”

There’s no doubt Thiem has been unlucky with who he’s faced in his three Grand Slam finals to date.

The Austrian has run into the ‘King of Clay’ in his two French Open finals over the last couple of seasons, while now he’s coming up against the man he himself dubbed the ‘King of Australia’ in seven-time champion Djokovic in Melbourne.

However, Thiem thinks he can use the experience gained from facing Nadal for when he squares off against Djokovic on Sunday night.

Novak Djokovic: The King of the Australian Open

“We are playing in tough times, [we] young players. We always have to beat all these unbelievable legends. But I think it’s a complete different situation,” Thiem said. “Rafa won Paris 12 times, Nole here seven times. That’s [an] unbelievable achievement. But I try to take my experience that I made in the past two major finals and try to improve myself even more. I think I did that from ’18 to ’19 in Paris, and I tried to improve even more now.

“In this one I have the feeling that I have great experience now. I’m feeling that I can really keep up my level for all the two weeks, which was not the case maybe in my first Roland Garros final. So that’s what I’m taking, [and I’m going to] try to be in the zone straightaway on Sunday night.”