Dominic Thiem

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Novak Djokovic wins 8th Australian Open, rallying past Dominic Thiem

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Novak Djokovic won his eighth Australian Open title the hard way, rallying past Dominic Thiem 6-3, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the final to defend the Big Three’s dominance in men’s tennis.

Djokovic was error-prone in the first three and a half sets, visited with a trainer and a doctor and was even called for two time violations on his serve. Thiem, seeking to become the first man born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam, could see the finish line with a break point early in the fourth set.

“I was on brink of losing,” Djokovic said. “I didn’t feel that great. Dominic started dominating from back of the court.”

Djokovic saved it, then broke the Austrian’s serve at 4-3 for the first time since the opening set. Djokovic did it again at 1-all in the decider en route to extending his male record for Australian Open crowns.

Djokovic earned his 17th Grand Slam singles title overall, moving within three of Roger Federer for the first time in his career. Federer has a male record 20 Slams; Rafael Nadal has 19. The Big Three combined to win the last 13 Slams.

“Definitely my favorite court, my favorite stadium in the world,” said Djokovic, who moved to 16-0 in semifinals and finals in Rod Laver Arena. “I’m blessed to hold this trophy once again.”

LISTS: Most Grand Slam singles titles

Djokovic’s latest means that he snatches the No. 1 ranking from Nadal. Djokovic, who turns 33 on May 22, will have the same number of Slams as Federer and Nadal each had on their 33rd birthdays.

Thiem, the closest challenger to Djokovic, Federer and Nadal in recent years, narrowed the gap. He lost the 2018 French Open final to Nadal in three sets and the 2019 French final in four to the Spaniard.

“Novak is part of three guys who are by far best players ever,” said Thiem, who beat Nadal in a four-set quarterfinal, “These guys brought tennis to a complete new level, so they also brought me to a much better level.

“It was easier for sure in a different era to win big titles, that’s 100 percent. But I’m happy that I can compete with these guys on the best level. I really also that I win my maiden slam when they are still around because it just counts more.”

It’s the first time in the Open Era that three straight men’s Slam finals went five sets.

The last two showed just how close we may be to a changing of the guard. Consider Nadal needed 4 hours, 51 minutes to outlast Russian Daniil Medvedev at the last major, the U.S. Open in September.

“You definitely have a lot more time,” Djokovic, who has won 11 Slams since turning 26, told the 26-year-old Thiem. “I’m sure you will get one of the Grand Slam trophies. More. More than one.”

Now the spotlight shifts back to Nadal, who goes for a 13th French Open title in four months. He can tie Federer’s Slam total for the first time.

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Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem meet in Australian Open final, another generational duel

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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.”

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Dominic Thiem joins Novak Djokovic in Australian Open final after delays

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Dominic Thiem overcame Alexander Zverev and brief rain and lighting delays to become the first male Australian Open finalist born in the 1990s, setting the stage for a match against Novak Djokovic on Sunday.

The Austrian Thiem dispatched the German Zverev 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) in a semifinal between two of tennis’ next-generation stars looking to break up the Djokovic-Rafael NadalRoger Federer grasp on Grand Slam titles dating to the start of 2017.

Zverev dropped two set points on Thiem’s serve in the third frame. Thiem then raced out to early leads in both tiebreaks to win a three-and-a-half-hour semifinal.

Thiem has been the most consistent recent challenger to the Big Three, reaching the last two French Open finals (and losing to 12-time French Open champ Nadal each time). He beat Nadal in a four-hour quarterfinal in Melbourne and didn’t go to bed until 5 a.m. on Thursday.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Thiem won four of his last five meetings with Djokovic, but three victories came on Thiem’s preferred clay. Thiem did take their last match on an indoor hard court at November’s ATP Finals, rallying from a set down in a best-of-three.

But Djokovic’s most successful stage is Rod Laver Arena. He is 15-0 in semifinals and finals and seeking a record-extending eighth Australian Open crown.

“He’s the king of Australia,” Thiem said of Djokovic. “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.”

Thiem ended a streak just by reaching the final. The last time the Australian Open had a male finalist not born in the 1980s was in 2003, when Andre Agassi earned his last Grand Slam title.

The Australian Open continues Saturday with the women’s final between American Sofia Kenin and Spain’s Garbine Muguruza. It’s the fourth straight women’s Slam final without a top-five-ranked player. Sunday will mark the fifth straight men’s Slam final where both players are ranked in the top five.

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