Djokovic wins Aussie Open

Nole comes back, beats Thiem for 17th Slam ti­tle

Antelope Valley Press - - SPORTS - By HOWARD FEN­DRICH

MEL­BOURNE, Australia — No­vak Djokovic was look­ing weary and worn down. He felt dizzy and trailed Do­minic Thiem in the Aus­tralian Open fi­nal — mis­cues mount­ing, deficit grow­ing.

Djokovic did what he does, though. He re­fused to lose, waited for a chance to pounce and found his best ten­nis when ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary. Even threw in a wrinkle, serve-and-vol­ley­ing twice when fac­ing break point.

Re­gain­ing his stamina and strokes, and show­ing some gutsy cre­ativ­ity, Djokovic came back to edge Thiem 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 Sun­day night for an eighth Aus­tralian Open ti­tle, sec­ond in a row, and 17th Grand Slam tro­phy over­all.

“I was on the brink of los­ing the match. Do­minic ... dis­rupted my rhythm in my game at one point. He was a bet­ter player,” Djokovic said. “Prob­a­bly one point — and one shot — sep­a­rated us tonight.”

Nonethe­less, Djokovic improved his record in semi­fi­nals and fi­nals at Mel­bourne Park to 16-0 and as­sured him­self of re­turn­ing to No. 1 in the rank­ings, re­plac­ing Rafael

Nadal.

No other man in the his­tory of ten­nis has won this hard-court tour­na­ment more than six times. Only Roger Fed­erer, with 20, and Nadal, with 19, have won more men’s Grand Slam sin­gles trophies than Djokovic.

“Amaz­ing achieve­ment. Un­real what you’re do­ing through­out all these years,” said the fifth-seeded Thiem, who is 0-3 in ma­jor fi­nals. “You and also two other guys, I think you brought men’s ten­nis to a com­plete new level.”

Both fi­nal­ists spoke about the dev­as­tat­ing wild­fires that have killed dozens of peo­ple and mil­lions of an­i­mals around Australia. Djokovic also men­tioned the re­cent deaths of NBA star Kobe Bryant and one of his daugh­ters in a he­li­copter crash.

Ad­dress­ing Thiem, Djokovic said: “I am sure you will def­i­nitely get one of the Grand Slam trophies. More than one.”

A lit­tle more than six months af­ter sav­ing a pair of cham­pi­onship points against Fed­erer en route to win­ning a five-set Wim­ble­don fi­nal, Djokovic again showed that he can’t ever be counted out, com­ing back from two-sets-to-one be­hind in a Grand Slam ti­tle match for the first time.

It didn’t come eas­ily for the 32-year-old from Ser­bia. He lost six games in a row in one stretch to Thiem, who plays a sim­i­lar base­line game and elim­i­nated Nadal in the quar­ter­fi­nals.

Djokovic vis­ited by a doc­tor and trainer in the third set and, des­per­ate to hy­drate, guz­zled bot­tles of

wa­ter and en­ergy drink. He lec­tured the chair um­pire about time vi­o­la­tions.

“My en­ergy dropped sig­nif­i­cantly,” Djokovic said at his news con­fer­ence, sip­ping an anti-ox­i­dant drink in­stead of the Cham­pagne of­fered by tour­na­ment di­rec­tor Craig Ti­ley.

This was not the dom­i­nant Djokovic who made a hard-to-be­lieve to­tal of nine un­forced er­rors dur­ing his straight-set tri­umph over Nadal in the fi­nal a year ago. Djokovic eclipsed that to­tal in the first set alone Sun­day, fin­ish­ing with 57.

It was a phys­i­cal test of­fer­ing plenty of en­ter­tain­ing ex­changes, with 61 points last­ing at least nine shots apiece.

“Very de­mand­ing,” Thiem said.

“Of course,” he said, “I just feel a lot of empti­ness right now.”

At two key mo­ments, Djokovic aban­doned his usual grind-points-out script and went on the at­tack, rush­ing to the net af­ter a serve when fac­ing a break point — first, at 2-1 in the fourth set, then again at 2-1 in the fifth. Paid off both times. “Not char­ac­ter­is­tic of me,” Djokovic said. “Kind of all-ornoth­ing.”

Mak­ing a charge as his less-ex­pe­ri­enced foe fal­tered, Djokovic broke to lead 5-3 in the fourth set, helped by a sloppy vol­ley into the net tape, a dou­ble-fault and a bad fore­hand by Thiem.

A break early in the fifth helped Djokovic clutch the sil­ver Aus­tralian Open tro­phy he also won in 2008, 2011-13, 2015-16 and 2019.

He adds that haul to his five ti­tles from Wim­ble­don, three from the U.S. Open and one from the French Open.

Thiem, an Aus­trian who is 26, was the run­ner-up to Nadal at Roland Gar­ros each of the past two years and was again try­ing to be­come the first man born in the 1990s to win a ma­jor sin­gles ti­tle.

17-TIME CHAMP Ser­bia’s No­vak Djokovic holds the Nor­man Brookes Chal­lenge Cup af­ter de­feat­ing Aus­tria’s Do­minic Thiem in the men’s fi­nal of the Aus­tralian Open in Mel­bourne, Australia, on Sun­day.

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