Three-times un­lucky but Thiem edges closer to slam break­through

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - SPORTS -

MELBOURNE: Do­minic Thiem fin­ished sec­ond-best for the third time in a Grand Slam fi­nal Sun­day, but the 26-year-old Aus­trian will leave Melbourne Park con­fi­dent that he is not too far away from be­com­ing a ma­jor win­ner.

No­vak Djokovic with­stood a fierce chal­lenge be­fore over­haul­ing Thiem 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 to clinch an eighth Aus­tralian Open crown.

The Serb’s tri­umph – which took his Grand Slam haul to 17 ti­tles meant ten­nis’ Big Three of Djokovic, Roger Fed­erer and Rafa Nadal have now shared the last 13 ma­jors be­tween them.

Over the past 19 months, Thiem has had three chances to break that iron grip.

He fell in straight sets to ‘King of Clay’ Nadal in the 2018 French Open fi­nal but took the 12-time Roland Gar­ros cham­pion to four sets last June.

The Aus­trian Sun­day ap­peared to be head­ing to­ward a four-set vic­tory be­fore Djokovic mounted a spec­tac­u­lar come­back to deny him again.

“I think there’s not much to change,” Thiem said. “Also in the last two sets, I def­i­nitely gave ev­ery­thing I had. Well, No­vak is part of three guys who are by far the best play­ers to have ever played ten­nis.

“If you play a Grand Slam fi­nals against him, it’s al­ways go­ing to be a match where very small de­tails are de­cid­ing.

“Of course, there were some small mis­takes here and there, but they hap­pen. At the end, [it] was a su­per close five-set­ter. I don’t re­ally regret any­thing.”

Thiem had a slow start as Djokovic built a 3-0 lead on his way to win­ning the open­ing set.

When it seemed like it will be a re­peat of last year when Djokovic thrashed Nadal in a one-sided fi­nal, Thiem bounced back.

The packed Rod Laver Arena crowd, who were left gasp­ing dur­ing the Serb’s flaw­less dis­play in the open­ing set, got be­hind the Aus­trian chal­lenger in the hope of in­spir­ing him to give them a proper con­test. Thiem did not dis­ap­point. “I’m happy I can com­pete with these guys on the best level,” said Thiem, who in the quar­ter­fi­nals had beaten Nadal in a slam for the first time af­ter five pre­vi­ous failed at­tempts. “I re­ally hope also that I win my maiden slam when they’re still around be­cause it just counts more, yeah.”

Once Djokovic ral­lied back to get the match on level terms, Thiem started feel­ing the strain hav­ing en­dured a dif­fi­cult cam­paign in the last two weeks.

While Djokovic lost a sin­gle set on his way to the fi­nal, Thiem had spent a to­tal of eight hours on court in his last two matches alone.

“I didn’t have easy matches, es­pe­cially from the quar­ters on. Beat­ing Rafa in over four hours, then two days later go­ing back out again against Sascha (Zverev),” he said. “Un­be­liev­ably in­tense, close match.

“I’m very aware and sure now that I can play on a very high level for a full Grand Slam. Didn’t have any drops. That doesn’t make me proud, but it makes me very con­fi­dent for the next big tour­na­ments which are com­ing up.”

Over the past 19 months, Thiem has had three chances to break Djokovic’s iron grip.

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