Novak Djokovic believes he was only “one point and one shot” away from losing the Australian Open men’s final to Dominic Thiem, before going on to win his eighth title in a five-set thriller at Melbourne Park.
- Novak Djokovic said a change of tactics when facing a break point early in the fourth set swung the match around in his favour
- Dominic Thiem had led two sets to one, before Djokovic launched his comeback to beat the fifth seed
- Djokovic remains undefeated in Australian Open finals following his eighth title victory
For the first time in a final of a major, Djokovic fought his way back from two sets to one down to come out victorious, beating the fifth-seeded Thiem 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in three hours and 59 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
Djokovic now has 17 major singles titles to his name and he trails only the other two members of the “big three” of men’s tennis, Roger Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (19).
He will also replace Nadal as world number one when the ATP rankings are released later today.
But according to Djokovic, it could have been all so different.
After losing the third set to trail Thiem, the Serbian found himself facing a break point early in the fourth set with the score locked at 1-1.
Djokovic always feels more comfortable when he is playing from the baseline, so he took himself out of his comfort zone when he opted for the serve and volley tactic to upset Thiem’s rhythm.
The tactic worked, as consecutive backhand volleys at the net won the point and he went on to hold serve and eventually take out the fourth set to level the match.
He also chose to go with the serve and volley approach when Thiem had a break point in the fifth set, before again getting himself out of trouble.
Djokovic said he might have recorded his first loss in an Australian Open final had he not mixed up his strategy when facing those break points.
“Probably one point and one shot separated us tonight,” a frank Djokovic told his post-match media conference at Melbourne Park.
“It could have gone a different way. I served and volleyed when I was facing a break point in the fourth and in the fifth.
“It worked both of the times. It could have also been different. Serve and volley is not something I’m accustomed to. I’m not really doing that often.
“I kind of recognised that as an important tactic in those circumstances and I’m really happy it worked.”
Thiem, who said he felt “a lot of emptiness” in the wake of the defeat, acknowledged that breaking Djokovic’s serve in the third game of the fourth set might have proven to be the killer blow.
“If I could say anything, I would just say that maybe I could have converted the break point in the fourth set, where I could have the lead [at] 2-1],” the Austrian said.
“Of course, there were some small mistakes here and here, but they happen. At the end [it] was a super close five-setter. I don’t really regret anything.”
Djokovic recovers after not feeling ‘good’
Djokovic had taken a medical timeout at the end of the third set, when Thiem had the momentum and appeared to be on the cusp of winning his first major tournament.
Medical staff inside Rod Laver Arena had suggested it might be dehydration that was affecting Djokovic, who admitted he “did not feel good”.
“I was a bit shocked that I did feel that way because everything was fine before the match,” Djokovic said.
For the first two sets, everything was okay. But it’s something that you have to accept that you’re going through.
“Those kind of circumstances really kind of forced me to let things go and to really try to be in the moment and fight my way back.
“As I said, facing a break point early in the fourth was a critical moment where things turned around really.”
Thiem, a two-time French Open runner-up, said at no point did he feel victory was in his keeping.
“If you lead two sets to one and 5-0, sure, you can say to yourself that you have it,” he said.
“But there’s no chance in the finals against a guy like Novak. I was far away from a thought like that.”
‘It kind of disturbed me’
Djokovic may face scrutiny after his emotions got the better of him late in the second set when serving in what proved to be a pivotal ninth game.
He received two time violations from chair umpire Damien Dumusois en route to dropping his serve and handing Thiem a 5-4 lead in the second.
As he made his way to his chair, Djokovic patted the left foot of Dumusois, before directing a sarcastic tirade the way of the chief match official.
“Great job, you made yourself famous. Well done,” a fuming Djokovic said.
@cvbyllardt video tweet: “”You made yourself famous… well done.” Novak Djokovic continue his rampage as he pats the umpire’s foot after a time violation.”
Djokovic played down the incident after the match, claiming he meant no harm to the umpire.
“I didn’t know that’s (touching an umpire’s shoe) is completely forbidden, I thought it was a nice really friendly touch,” a smiling Djokovic said.
“I wasn’t aggressive with him in terms of physical abuse. I just couldn’t believe that I got the time violation.
“It kind of disturbed me. That’s all there is to it. Verbally, we did have some exchanges, but no insults because if I did insult him, I would get a warning.”