King of Australia! Djokovic claims eighth Australian Open title

Hannah Wilks:

Novak Djokovic extends his supremacy at the Australian Open, coming back from two sets to one down in a major final for the first time to beat Dominic Thiem.

Djokovic trailed against the fifth-seeded Austrian but came back to win 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in just over four hours.

He will return to world no. 1 on Monday, displacing Rafael Nadal.

The victory means that Djokovic extended his grasp on the record for most Australian Open titles of all time, bringing his total to eight.

He also joins Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as the only players to win eight or more titles at the same major, with Federer having done so at Wimbledon and Nadal at Roland Garros, and is the first player to win major titles in three different decades.

Djokovic also remains unbeaten in Australian Open finals, and closes the gap on Federer and Nadal in the tightening race for the all-time biggest Grand Slam haul, bringing his total to 17, with Nadal on 19 and Federer on 20.

Thiem trailed 4-6 in the overall head-to-head coming into the match and, although he had won four of their last five matches, the Austrian was still not favoured to do something unprecedented – beat Djokovic in an Australian Open final, something Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray have all failed to do.

Djokovic shows his frustration during the match (AAP Image/Michael Dodge)

And Djokovic got off to the kind of peerless start we have been accustomed to seeing from the Serb. Despite landing 73% of his first serves, Thiem was pushed to deuce in each of his first three service games and was broken to trail 1-4.

But Djokovic did not have it all his own way for long. The Austrian landed a huge backhand winner down the line for 15-40 with Djokovic serving at 4-2, and broke, saving break point in his next service game to level at 4-4.

Djokovic did take the set 6-4, breaking for the second time as Thiem, calamitously, served his first double fault of the set when down set point – an understandable error given that he had only won two of the ten points played behind his second serve.

It was the ninth straight set that Djokovic had won in Australian Open finals, but it did not take too long for Thiem to surge back, just as he had done after losing the first set against Alexander Zverev in the semifinals. Under pressure from Thiem’s big groundstrokes at 1-1, Djokovic double-faulted twice to be broken, and although he broke back for 4-4, he was promptly broken again after being given two time violations in the game, the second costing him a first serve.

Djokovic, furious, let loose on umpire Damien Dumusois at the changeover, telling him: ‘You made yourself a mark in this match, great, job, man … You made yourself famous, well done.’

Thiem remained ice cool, and served out the set to level 4-6, 6-4, before winning the first four games of the third set as Djokovic’s energy level seemed to plummet.

Djokovic had the trainer and doctor on to court at 1-4, and after Thiem wrapped up the third set 6-2, the Serb left the court with the doctor.

Thiem was up by two sets to one but the match slipped away from him (AAP Image/Michael Dodge) 

For the first time in his career, Djokovic found himself trailing by two sets to one in an Australian Open final. But the 16-time Grand Slam champion found his familiar, extraordinary resilience once again. Thiem fended him off as he pressed hard for a break at 2-3, but Djokovic was beginning to hold in much more dominant style and one poor service game from Thiem was the difference as the Austrian put a drop shot in the net and then double-faulted at 3-4. Djokovic seized the break and sealed a resurgent set with an ace down the T.

Djokovic had cleaned up his game remarkably in the fourth set, hitting 13 winners for just five unforced errors and serving much more effectively, and he kept up the pressure on Thiem’s serve, breaking to lead 2-1 in the fifth set when Thiem made consecutive forehand errors under pressure.

Thiem had a last opportunity as Djokovic served to consolidate, manufacturing two break points, but his forehand broke down in a lengthy rally on the first, and the second saw Djokovic attacking the net too effectively for Thiem to make the pass. The Serb held for 3-1.

The Austrian delivered a huge hold to stay in touch at 3-4, then won a 28-shot rally for 0-15 on Djokovic’s serve, but the Serb found two of his finest serves of the match from 15-30 down and held for 5-3 before serving out the match on his first opportunity.