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  5. Australian Open 2020, men's singles final: Can Dominic Thiem dethrone 'King' Novak Djokovic in Melbourne?

Australian Open 2020, men's singles final: Can Dominic Thiem dethrone 'King' Novak Djokovic in Melbourne?

Will Djokovic maintain his strong grip on the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup on Sunday, or will Thiem inflict one of the greatest upsets and complete his dream run in Melbourne?

Aratrick Mondal Written by: Aratrick Mondal
New Delhi Updated on: February 01, 2020 23:19 IST
Novak Djokovic of Serbia (L) and Dominic Thiem of Austria.
Image Source : GETTY

Novak Djokovic of Serbia (L) and Dominic Thiem of Austria. They will play each other in the Australian Open Men's Final on February 2

Unlike in women's singles, the one-half of the general prediction in the men's category has stood positive. As usual, the 'King' of Melbourne, Novak Djokovic has reached yet another Australian Open final, in search for an unprecedented eighth at the Rod Laver Arena. The other half of the prediction, however, had Rafael Nadal as the strongest possibility. But the summit clash will witness Djokovic going up against Nadal-slayer Dominic Thiem, in what will be his maiden Australian Open final appearance. The question is, will Djokovic maintain his strong grip on the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, or will Thiem inflict one of the greatest upsets and complete his dream run in Melbourne?

'King' of Melbourne...

No surprises there! He has been playing another flawless campaign in Melbourne and has deservingly reached his 26th Grand Slam final and eighth in Australian Open. And en route, has dropped only one set, against Jan-Lenard Struff in his opener. Djokovic took down David Schwartzman in straight sets in the fourth round and cleverly negated big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic in the quarters before comfortably scripting an easy win against world no.3 Roger Federer in the semis. 

If Djokovic wins, he will be lifting his 17th Grand Slam career title, and will stand two behind Rafael Nadal and three behind Federer. A loss will only imply a golden opportunity missed by the Serbian in the race to become the all-time great, but more so, the start of a new era in men's tennis. 

India Tv - Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates after winning his Men's Singles Semifinal match against Roger Federer of Switzerland on day eleven of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 30, 2020 in Melbourne.

Image Source : GETTY

Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates after winning his Men's Singles Semifinal match against Roger Federer of Switzerland on day eleven of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 30, 2020 in Melbourne.

The resurgent Austrian...

Not many expected Thiem to come this far into the tournament. But the natural clay-courter has dug deep to his reach his maiden Grand Slam final on a hard court and now stands as the strongest possibility to make that inroad in men's tennis, one which the Next Gen have been searching for long. The stage will be no new to Thiem as he has twice before reached the finals at Roland Garros only to be deceived by the King of Clay. Unfortunately, he now runs into the King of Melbourne. 

“It’s unbelievable, twice in Roland Garros finals, twice facing Rafa,” he said. “Now facing Novak here, he’s the king of Australia, so I’m always facing the kings of the Grand Slams in these finals.”

India Tv - Dominic Thiem of Austria plays a forehand during his Men's Singles Semifinal match against Alexander Zverev of Germany on day twelve of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park

Image Source : GETTY

Dominic Thiem of Austria plays a forehand during his Men's Singles Semifinal match against Alexander Zverev of Germany on day twelve of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park

Unlike Djokovic, Thiem hasn't had a very flawless outing in Melbourne. He played a five-setter against wild-card entrant Alex Bolt in the second round and played a set extra against Taylor Fritz in the third round before engaging in a raw physical battle against Nadal in the quarters, the game which brought put the best of Thiem. He displayed more of his forehand winners, infused a lot many backhand slices, and had won the long rallies even from baseline, hence outsmarting Nadal with his own medicine. A day later, Thiem engaged in another inseparable match against fellow Next Gen Alexander Zverev in the semis. It was this match which revealed his slow yet steady progress on hard courts. On the red dirt, he uses spin more often, stands inches behind the baseline and uses his one-handed backhand more often. On the hardcourt, he maintained a similar technique but has also looked for more forehand winners, which was clearly noticeable in the two tiebreakers he played against the lanky German.

Key statistics for Djokovic vs Thiem Australian Open final...

1) Djokovic has the edge in their head-to-head tie with a 6-4 lead, however, the Austrian has won four out of their last five encounters. Their most recent encounters being a semifinal win by Thiem at French Open and group-stage win at ATP Finals last December. In Grand Slam matches, all of which came at the Roland Garros, Thiem leads 2-1. 

2) The Serbian has never lost a final at Australian Open and never lost a Grand Slam final since 2016's US Open loss to Stan Wawrinka. Overall, he is 16-9 in 25 Grand Slam finals in his career. Thiem lost both the Grand Slam finals he reached so far in his career.

3) Djokovic will be hoping to join the two other members of the Big Three in becoming only the third player ever to win a single Grand Slam event eight or more times, joining Nadal (Roland Garros, 12) and Federer (Wimbledon, 8). 

4) Djokovic will aim to join Nadal in another list with a win in Melbourne as the Serb will become only the second tennis player to win five majors after turning 30. So far he was won - Australian Open 2019, Wimbledon in 2018 and 2019 and US Open in 2018 - after turning 30. 

5) A Djokovic upset on Sunday will imply that Thiem will become the first player to be born in the 90s to win a major and the second Austrian after former World No.1 Thomas Muster to win a Grand Slam.

6) Thiem is aiming to be only the second player after Wawrinka in 2014 to defeat both Nadal and Djokovic en route to a Grand Slam victory. The victory will also put him alongside the Swiss in the list of most Grand Slam wins against the Serb. Both will stand third after Nadal (9) and Federer (6). 

7) Thiem will also join Ivan Lendl and Marat Safin in the third spot in the list of most appearances before winning the Australian Open title - seven for the trio. 

Stat  Novak Djokovic  Dominic Thiem
Break Points saved 11 of 18 31 of 44
Winners 213 287
Unforced errors 131 213
Aces 70 57
Tie-breakers 9 of 17 23 of 37
Baseline battles 53 per cent 53.5 per cent
9+ shots 61.4 per cent 62.3 per cent

Strategy: 

Thiem showed incredible defence ability in the game against Nadal, which he once considered was his Achilles heel. He sprinted down all corners and never rushed into the ball to execute the return. Moreover, his impressive first-serve percentage, aggressive second serves and one-two moves will be crucial against Djokovic. But his forehand has to be the biggest shot for the clash.

Thiem has to put forth a flawless game against Djokovic, one he displayed against Nadal. His backhand slice, which he used more often than ever in the Zverev clash, will be key for the Austrian in sending the Serb back to the baseline before he could sprint to the net and play that forehand winner.

For Djokovic, he too has been impeccable with his service games so far and clocks a second serve around 165kmph. Moreover, his ability to convert defense into offence will be the one that Thiem has to be cautious about. Djokovic is also one of the greatest returners of the game. Even against Raonic, who was firing at 225kmph, he was standing on the baseline to float the ball back into play and neutralise the effect.  

Prediction: Djokovic in four sets.