February 2, 2020
Novak Djokovic secured his seventeenth Grand Slam title and a record eighth in Melbourne
But he had to do it the hard way.
What a nail-biting, awe-inspiring final! Doesn’t it make you just long for Wimbledon?
These five sets were far more mesmerising than the 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 scoreline might suggest.
Djokovic was pushed to the very limits of tennis endurance by a magnificent Dominic Thiem.
Ultimately this was a demonstration of Novak’s profound confidence in his own ability, however dangerously he trailed.
Comfortable in his skin and willing to suffer temporary setbacks, no matter how ominous they looked.
Djokovic just seems to know that he will find a way to counter whatever is thrown at him in the end.
He led 4-1 in the first and didn’t panic when Thiem fought back to parity. Novak had a set point at 5-4 but Thiem held his nerve to boss a tense rally.
No matter. Djokovic just sucked it all up and piled on the pressure once more. Within moments he had earned a second set point in the same game.
This time Thiem crumbled and served up a double fault.
In the second, Thiem won three games in a row to lead 3-1. Djokovic couldn’t turn the tide in that set, the first he had lost since the opening round of the tournament.
We thought he would resume control in the third. It didn’t happen.
Instead, Thiem’s relentless pressure gave him one set point after another at 5-2.
Brilliantly as Novak defended in a desperate situation, he wilted on the fourth set point and was now in serious trouble.
Thiem had a breakpoint at one-all in the fourth. It wasn’t quite match-point. But it didn’t feel that far off.
Novak served bravely and followed up ruthlessly to save the day.
But he only took the game with the help of a huge slice of luck as the ball thought about which side of the net to fall, then dribbled over in Novak’s favour.
Djokovic conjured a colossal hold to edge 3-2 ahead.
He reached what should rightfully have been a Thiem winner with a backhand stretch no other player could have made, then moved in for the kill.
But Thiem wasn’t about to capitulate and produced similar miracles of athleticism the very next game.
Make no mistake, this was sensational stuff from the Austrian.
In his first Grand Slam final against Rafael Nadal, there was self-doubt. We saw some significant growth in Thiem’s confidence in their second showpiece.
But for two sets against Djokovic, Thiem displayed total faith in his talent and his right to be a Grand Slam champion.
He moved around the court nimbly and used both intelligence and power on demand.
But Novak wasn’t about to give up his dominance Down Under in a hurry.
When Thiem hit a forehand too long, it was Djokovic who had the break and he sealed the set with an ace.
The younger man was broken exactly the same way in the decider – by putting too much weight on a forehand.
Could Djokovic consolidate? Of course he could. But he had to save two break points along the way.
Victory was in sight and with it history. Eight Australian Opens and now Novak sits just two Grand Slams behind Rafael Nadal and three behind Roger Federer.
Surely it is only a matter of time?
Meanwhile, there was also Grand Slam glory for British doubles star Joe Salisbury.
The 27-year-old Londoner and his American partner Rajeev Ram beat Australian duo Max Purcell and Luke Saville 6-4, 6-2.
Jamie Murray usually enjoys most of the doubles limelight but Salisbury reached the Wimbledon men’s doubles semi-finals in 2018.
That gave him the self-belief to go hunting for his first Grand Slam title.
He explained: ‘I wasn’t really sure how high I could get. Once I did that at Wimbledon then I kind of realised the level I could play. It was possible to win a Grand Slam.’
Now Salisbury’ ambition has been realised.
And he joins a very select group of Brits who have won men’s doubles Grand Slam titles in the open era.
Roger Taylor, Jamie Muray, Jonny Marray and now Joe Salisbury. They are the only Brits to have tasted such glory.
For 35-year-old Rajeev Ram, this spectacular success comes at the 58th time of asking in Slams. If at first you don’t succeed…
For Djokovic, victory seems habitual. But just like the Wimbledon final last summer, this was one of the toughest to achieve.