An Australian Open that has seen the men’s establishment shaken by young talent comes to a fitting close today when defending champion Novak Djokovic takes on Dominic Thiem in an intergenerational decider.
Pre-tournament favourite Djokovic will bid for a record-extending eighth title at Melbourne Park, having surprised no-one with his business-like march through the draw.
What has raised eyebrows is the profile of his opponent, a quite different proposition from the men Djokovic has faced before in the title match. In seven finals, he has met only three men, defeating Rafael Nadal (2012, 2019) twice, Andy Murray four times (2011, 2013, 2015-16) and a lone victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2008 for his maiden Grand Slam title.
In fifth seed Thiem, the Serb meets an opponent he has never faced at Melbourne Park and suffered losses to in four of their last five meetings. Three of those were on the 26-year-old’s favoured clay, but he also came from a set down to beat Djokovic on hard court at the ATP Finals in November.
“I won more of the (recent) encounters than he did. But I think it doesn’t count so much. It’s absolutely his comfort zone here,” said the Austrian, in reference to Djokovic’s 15-0 record in Australian Open semi-finals or finals.
Thiem has the weapons to trouble Djokovic. He is supremely fit and regarded as one of the fastest movers on court, with a one-handed backhand that generates heavy spin and a power-packed forehand.
“I have to risk a lot,” said Thiem, runner-up to Nadal at the last two French Opens, of his bid to become the first player born in the 1990s to win a Slam. “I have to go for many shots. At the same time, not too much. That’s a very thin line.”
There are other challenges. World No. 2 Djokovic has spent just 12 hours and 29 minutes on court this tournament – nearly six hours less than Thiem (18 hours and 24 minutes).
The 32-year-old also heads into the decider with an extra day’s rest after dispatching an injured Roger Federer in his semi-final on Thursday. “Yes, I’m pleased with the way I’ve been feeling and playing,” said the 16-time Grand Slam winner.