Djokovic wins eighth Aus­tralian crown

Serb en­dures fierce chal­lenge to his reign be­fore bring­ing down Thiem in thriller

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

MELBOURNE: No­vak Djokovic en­dured a fierce chal­lenge to his Melbourne Park reign be­fore over­haul­ing Do­minic Thiem 6-4 4-6 26 6-3 6-4 in a thriller Sun­day to clinch an eighth Aus­tralian Open crown and re­claim the world num­ber one rank­ing.

Un­der siege for much of a riveting four-hour slog, the de­fend­ing cham­pion found him­self be­hind af­ter three sets for the first time in eight fi­nals at Rod Laver Arena.

But as he so of­ten does, the steely eyed Serb found a way to win, de­fy­ing a crowd that was shame­lessly be­hind the un­der­dog Aus­trian.

He cap­tured the de­ci­sive break in the third game of the fi­nal set, then locked down the match to se­cure his 17th Grand Slam ti­tle as a tir­ing Thiem bowed out with guns blaz­ing.

“This is def­i­nitely my fa­vorite court, my fa­vorite sta­dium in the world and I am blessed to hold this tro­phy again,” said Djokovic af­ter be­ing handed the Nor­man Brookes Chal­lenge Cup by 2005 win­ner Marat Safin.

Claim­ing the win when the fifth seed fired wide, he dropped his racket, spread his arms wide and walked to the net in a sub­dued cel­e­bra­tion.

It had eas­ily been his tough­est bat­tle in a Melbourne de­cider since the near six-hour epic against Rafa Nadal in 2012.

“I was on the brink of los­ing the match,” he told re­porters. “Could have gone a dif­fer­ent way.”

The Serb’s tri­umph meant ten­nis’ Big Three of Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Fed­erer have now shared the last 13 ma­jors be­tween them – dat­ing back to the Swiss’s 2017 Melbourne win.

Thiem was con­signed to his third de­feat in a Grand Slam fi­nal fol­low­ing losses in the last two French Open de­ciders to Nadal.

“Un­real what you are do­ing through all these years. You and two other guys have brought men’s ten­nis to a com­pletely new level,” the 26-year-old told Djokovic at the tro­phy cer­e­mony.

“Well I fell a lit­tle bit short but I hope I can get re­venge soon.”

While Thiem started heavy legged af­ter need­ing a com­bined eight hours to beat Nadal and Alexan­der Zverev in his pre­vi­ous two matches, Djokovic charged out of the blocks to take the first set.

But the match turned on its head at 4-4 in the sec­ond when he be­came flus­tered af­ter be­ing called twice for breach­ing the ser­vice clock.

As he re­turned to his chair fuming, he paused to sar­cas­ti­cally pat chair um­pire Damien Du­mu­sois’s sneaker, telling the French­man: “Great job man, you made your­self fa­mous in this match, es­pe­cially for the sec­ond one. Well done.”

Con­ced­ing the set with a ter­ri­ble back­hand, a shell­shocked Djokovic lost six games in a row as Thiem, blast­ing win­ners vir­tu­ally at will, roared to a 4-0 lead in the third.

Djokovic ap­peared list­less and sapped of en­ergy, and he called for the trainer af­ter hold­ing serve. But he un­der­went no treat­ment and re­sumed af­ter an ex­change of words.

He later left the court for a med­i­cal time-out which prompted ten­nis pun­dits to ac­cuse him of games­man­ship, not for the first time in the Serb’s dec­o­rated ca­reer.

It looked gloomy for Djokovic as an en­er­gized Thiem took the third set, but the match turned again when the Aus­trian dou­ble-faulted to con­cede two break points, then blasted a fore­hand long to fall 5-3 be­hind in the fourth.

In a flash, Djokovic had served out the set to love, seal­ing it with an ace.

Hav­ing spent about six hours more on court than Djokovic at the tour­na­ment, the strain of a long cam­paign took its toll on Thiem – but he re­fused to crum­ble in the fifth.

He had two chances to break back in the fourth game but Djokovic nerve­lessly can­celled the threat be­fore grind­ing to the fin­ish.

He be­came the third man to win the same Grand Slam at least eight times, join­ing Nadal with his 12 French Open crowns and Fed­erer who has tri­umphed eight times at Wim­ble­don.

Djokovic kisses the tro­phy af­ter win­ning his match against Thiem.

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