Djokovic outlasts Thiem to win 8th crown

Novak Djokovic reacts during his thrilling five-set victory over Dominic Thiem in the Australian Open final, the Guardian reports. 

Few players in tennis want to love and be loved as much as Novak Djokovic and, while he lost a few friends in one of the most curious meltdowns of his career, he stilled the boorish hecklers in a remarkable fightback to win his eighth Australian Open.

Beating Dominic Thiem 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a minute under four hours in the Rod Laver Arena on a mild Sunday night returned him to No 1 in the world, as well as putting him two majors behind Rafael Nadal and three behind Roger Federer, whose record 20 slams once looked a mountain too high for his peers. Not now.

It was not so much Djokovic’s tennis that went haywire, as his head. From 3-0, 4-1 and 5-2 up in an uneven start, he was gifted the first set with a double fault, and looked comfortable enough. Broken early in the second set, he recovered to 4-all and then mysteriously imploded. The ninth game of the frame resembled a reality show gone wrong, difficult to watch, impossible to understand.

Passing the umpire’s chair on the changeover, he gave Dumusois a tap on his shoe and a withering burst of sarcasm: “Great job man, especially the second one. You’ve made yourself famous. Well done.”

Thiem, who had his own anxious moments searching for depth on his ground strokes, served out the set, and cruised through the third. Djokovic seemed to be almost wilfully falling in a heap.

Before the start of the fourth, he received a pill from one of the tournament doctors. He was lethargic and sullen, and his head slipped to his chest with each mistake, 44 of them unforced in three sets. After hitting two aces in the first two minutes of the match, he added just three in the next three hours, along with five double faults. Where did that energy go?

His long-time confidant, coach and friend, Marian Vajda, leaned forward in his box, twitching nervously. Thiem almost broke again. Djokovic saved to go ahead for the first time since the first set – and he still looked like losing the match.

The exchanges were closer now, but parity was not good enough for Djokovic, trailing by the odd set in three. One more slip, and he would be done. He began to look a little like the Djokovic who had moved so smoothly through the draw, when he breezed past six opponents in 12 hours and 29 minutes – six hours fewer than 26-year-old Thiem’s path to the final.

The younger man will have been hurting from a five-setter and three that went four, including four hours and 19 minutes spent beating Nadal in the quarters, followed by three hours and 42 minutes to beat Alexander Zverev. Perhaps that is why he lost his way, an errant forehand allowing Djokovic back into the contest.

Invigorated, his step a little lighter, Djokovic served out the set to love and dragged his opponent into a deciding fifth that did not look remotely possible 42 minutes earlier.

The buzz filled Djokovic’s tingling soul again. He was a transformed beast, hungry for the kill. Thiem, whose strength and tenacity are highly respected, strained for consistency. The 18 hours and 24 minutes he spent getting to the concluding Sunday was gnawing at his stamina.

Djokovic won a battle of wills in a long rally for a break point that must have felt like fresh water in the desert, punching the air as he moved to within four games of victory. Vajda was up on his feet, alongside Goran Ivanisevic. A day earlier, Djokovic was so nervous, he told them to cancel a scheduled joint press conference.