Novak Djokovic

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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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Novak Djokovic ousts Roger Federer, makes Australian Open final

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Novak Djokovic swept a less-than-100-percent Roger Federer 7-6 (1), 6-4, 6-3 to reach the Australian Open final on Thursday. After, Federer said he went into the match believing he had a three percent chance to win coming off a groin muscle injury.

Djokovic will face Friday’s winner between Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev in Sunday’s final, seeking his record-extending eighth Australian Open title. Djokovic owns 16 major titles overall and can move within three of Federer’s male record total of 20. Rafael Nadal has 19.

Saturday’s women’s final pits American Sofia Kenin against Spain’s Garbine Muguruza. More on their matchup here.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Against Federer, Djokovic battled back from a 1-4, love-40 deficit on his serve in the first set to keep his record perfect in semifinals and finals at the Australian Open, his most successful Grand Slam.

“It could have definitely gone a different way if he wins one of those break points,” Djokovic said. “He started off really well. I was pretty nervous at the beginning. I just want to say respect to Roger for coming out tonight. He was obviously hurt and wasn’t at his best, even close to his best in terms of movement. Respect for him coming out and trying his best all the way through.”

Djokovic said in an-court interview that Federer was “obviously hurt.”

Federer had two five-set marathons in his previous three matches. He took a medical timeout with a groin muscle injury during a five-set quarterfinal win against American Tennys Sandgren on Tuesday.

He went for a scan later that night and didn’t practice Wednesday. He took another medical timeout against Djokovic but refused to retire from a match for the first time in a career of more than 1,500 matches.

“Nice entrance, nice sendoff, and in between is one to forget,” he said. “Once you can see it coming, that it’s not going to work anymore, it’s tough.

“I didn’t have any pain in the daily stuff. That was a positive sign.”

Federer said he believed he still has the ability to win a Grand Slam, which he last did at the 2018 Australian Open.

“Same as last year,” he said about his future outlook at age 38. “You never know what the future holds, especially at my age you don’t know. But I’m confident. I’m happy how I’m feeling, to be honest. Got through a good, nice training block. No plans to retire, so from that standpoint, we’ll see how the year goes and how everything is with the family, and we go from there. So, of course, I hope to be back [at the Australian Open].”

Djokovic, the No. 2 seed, improved to 27-23 in his head-to-head history with Federer, the No. 3 seed.

Thiem or Zverev will become the first man in the 1990s to play an Australian Open final. No man born in the 1990s has won a Grand Slam. Djokovic, Federer and Nadal combined to win the last 12.

“Dominic and Alexander Zverev are some of the best young players that play this game and definitely have high goals and ambitions, without a doubt, and definitely the potential to be there,” said Djokovic who lifted his first Grand Slam title at 20, then waited another three years until his second. “But I think one thing that I was probably lacking a little bit when I was younger was patience and trusting the process a little bit more.”

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