On paper, Novak Djokovic versus Dominic Thiem in Sunday’s Australian Open final marks the third time in the last four Grand Slams that one of the Big Three faces a next-generation talent looking to break through.
Djokovic doesn’t quite see it that way.
“I think [Thiem is] not really anymore next generation,” he said. “I mean, he’s been around for many years and now already established top-five, top-10 player. … He definitely has the game. He has the experience now. He has the strength. He has all the means to really be there.”
No younger player has been a more consistent challenger to Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal than the Austrian Thiem.
He lost to Nadal in the last two French Open finals and beat Djokovic in four of their last five meetings, most recently at last season’s ATP Finals on an indoor hard court.
But Djokovic is 15-0 in semifinals and finals at Rod Laver Arena. He eyes a record-extending eighth Australian Open title (Sunday, 3:30 a.m. ET) and to keep Thiem from becoming the first man born in the 1990s to win a Slam.
Few players have shown more dominance at a single Slam than Djokovic. Perhaps only Nadal at the French. The 26-year-old Thiem is well aware.
“He’s the king of Australia,” Thiem said of Djokovic on court after dispatching fellow child of the 1990s Alexander Zverev in Friday’s semifinals. “I’m always facing the kings of this certain Grand Slam in the final.
“If I walk off the court as a loser in two days, I still have to be patient, still have to trust the process.”
For Djokovic, it’s a chance to move within three Grand Slam titles of Federer’s male record 20, and two behind Nadal. The Serb, at 32, is six years younger than Federer and one year younger than Nadal, with less wear and tear.
“I don’t see tennis anymore only as I’m going to go there, and I’m going to win the trophy, do everything possible to achieve that, and once that’s done it’s done, and that’s the only reason I’m playing,” Djokovic said before the Australian Open, according to The New York Times. “I’ve finished with that kind of chapter in my life. I guess through the evolution of my life I came to the stage where it’s more than that.”
Djokovic hasn’t dropped a set since the first round. He swept a hobbled Federer in the semifinals. He is a clear favorite against Thiem, who is now used to the underdog role in major finals.
Thiem said it’s a completely different situation playing Djokovic in Australia versus Nadal in Paris. But he could not deny similarities.
“I mean, we are playing in tough times, we young players,” he said. “We always have to beat all these unbelievable legends.”
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!Follow @nbcolympictalk