Djokovic faces Thiem with 8th Australian Open title in his sights

Dominic Thiem (AFP)
Dominic Thiem (AFP)

Melbourne - Defending champion Novak Djokovic will look to hammer home his dominance of the Australian Open when he takes on Austria's Dominic Thiem looking for a record-extending eighth title on Sunday.

The Serb has proved indomitable in finals at Rod Laver Arena, winning seven out of seven since he claimed the first Major title of his career on the famous blue hardcourt in 2008.

The 32-year-old comes into the decider with 16 Grand Slam crowns and hoping to close the gap on Rafael Nadal's 19 and Roger Federer's 20, the all-time record.

Facing him across the net is a new Melbourne finalist in Thiem, 26, who was runner-up at the last two French Opens, but is contesting his first Grand Slam title match on hardcourts.

Thiem dubbed Djokovic the "king of Australia", owing to his peerless history at the tournament, but the record shows that the Austrian could and should trouble the Serb.

Although Djokovic leads their career head-to-head 6-4, Thiem has won four of the last five and he came from a set down to beat him on hardcourts at the ATP Finals in November.

Not only that, but Thiem shocked top-ranked Nadal in four sets in the quarter-finals in Melbourne, underlining a vastly improved hardcourt game which accounted for Federer in the Indian Wells final last year.

"It's a big motivation to beat players like Nadal, number one in the world, in the centre court in a Slam," said Thiem's coach, Nicolas Massu.

"Always make you so happy because you work for this. Now he's looking forward for the (final). Everyone knows that it is difficult to play against Nole (Djokovic) because he's an unbelievable player.

"But if Dominic is in the final it's because he deserves it."

Djokovic is the first to admit that Thiem has successfully refined his game over the past 12 months to compete on all surfaces.

And he acknowledges it is just a matter of time before the Austrian, who has a heavy forehand and a one-handed backhand, coupled with speed and superb fitness, wins a Slam.

"I don't think he's really anymore 'next generation'. He's been around for many years. Now already he's an established top-five, top-10 player," said Djokovic.

"It's just a matter of one match here and there that can potentially give him a Grand Slam title, that he can actually get in the mix of top three in the world."

Despite his praise for Thiem, Djokovic is banking on adding yet another Australian Open title to his collection, and heads into the final with an extra day's rest after dispatching an injured Federer in his semi-final on Thursday.

The world number two has been firing ever since arriving in Australia a month ago and was unbeaten over six ATP Cup singles matches as he led Serbia to the inaugural title ahead of the Australian Open.

"Yes, I'm pleased with the way I've been feeling and playing. I thought ATP Cup went really well for me, got a lot of hours spent on the court, singles and doubles," he said.

"Obviously got a lot of positive energy from that competition. I dropped only one set so far up to the finals.

"Hopefully I'll be able to perform as well as I always have in the Australian Open finals."

Australian Open men's final facts and figures ahead of Sunday's match (x denotes seeding):

Novak Djokovic (SRB x2) v Dominic Thiem (AUT x5)

Head-to-head: Djokovic leads 6-4

Fast facts

Djokovic: Age - 32; World ranking - 2; Prize money - $140,228,279; Career titles - 77; Grand Slam titles - 16; Australian Open best - Winner (2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019)

Djokovic routinely rates the Australian Open as his favourite Grand Slam and Rod Laver Arena is without question his most successful court, with a record seven titles to his name. Perhaps the best returner in the game, he has dropped just one set en route to the final and is firm favourite to win a 17th Grand Slam and extend his 2020 win streak to 13 matches.

Thiem: Age - 26; World ranking - 5; Prize money - $22,406,618; Career titles - 16; Grand Slam titles - 0; Australian Open best - Final (2020)

The Austrian is best known as a clay-court specialist, making the last two French Open finals where he was beaten by Rafael Nadal. A baseliner with a one-handed backhand, he came through a tough five-setter in round three and showed his class by upsetting Nadal in the last eight. Coached by former world number nine Nicolas Massu, he signalled his intentions by winning five titles last year.

Paths to the final:

Djokovic

1st rd: bt Jan-Lennard Struff (GER) 7-6 (7/5), 6-2, 2-6, 6-1

2nd rd: bt Tatsuma Ito (JPN) 6-1, 6-4, 6-2

3rd rd: bt Yoshihito Nishioka (JPN) 6-3, 6-2, 6-2

4th rd: bt Diego Schwartzman (ARG x14) 6-3, 6-4, 6-4

QF: bt Milos Raonic (CAN x32) 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7/1)

SF: bt Roger Federer (SUI x3) 7-6 (7/1), 6-4, 6-3

Thiem

1st rd: bt Adrian Mannarino (FRA) 6-3, 7-5, 6-2

2nd rd: bt Alex Bolt (AUS) 6-2, 5-7, 6-7 (5/7), 6-1, 6-2

3rd rd: bt Taylor Fritz (USA x29) 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4

4th rd: bt Gael Monfils (FRA x10) 6-2, 6-4, 6-4

QF: bt Rafael Nadal (ESP x3) 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 7-6 (8/6)

SF: bt Alexander Zverev (GER x7) 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/4)

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