By Lance Jenkinson
It felt like a typically calculated Novak Djokovic big match performance, where he would stalk his prey from the other side of the net, toy with it for a couple of sets and then go in for the kill.
The Serbian second seed certainly timed his run perfectly for a come-from-behind 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Austria’s Dominic Thiem in the 2020 Australian Open men’s singles final at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday night.
Djokovic’s recollection of how the match panned out was a whole lot different.
He felt like his game was spiralling out of control when he stared at a two sets to one deficit.
“I definitely did not feel good,” Djokovic said. “I didn’t know what the next moment brings.
“I was trying to keep myself alive mentally as well and emotionally because it was disappointing in a way from my side to actually feel this way.”
For a long time during the three hour, 59 minute epic, defending champion Djokovic looked second best.
Thiem was the aggressor in the first three sets.
The fifth seed continued with his cavalier style of play and it had Djokovic searching for answers at times.
Brave play has been a hallmark of Thiem’s two weeks in Melbourne.
It was the way he made it to the final and it was the way he played his final.
He did it his way and it almost came off on the grandest stage of all.
But, what more can you say about Djokovic?
This man is a warrior on the hard courts at the Australian Open.
The 32-year-old is unrivalled as an eight-time men’s singles champion on Rod Laver Arena.
He has turned the Aussie slam into the Novak slam.
After the semi final, Djokovic felt the difference between himself now to earlier in his career is patience.
Once again, he showed calmness under pressure, battling through tough periods in the match to come through with a famous victory.
“I’ve had that privilege to win this big tournament for eight times,” Djokovic said.
“To start off the season with a grand slam win significantly boosts your confidence and your expectations are quite high for the rest of the season.
“But whatever happens, this season is already successful.”
What sets Djokovic apart from his peers is his incredible defence.
Is there a better defensive player in tennis than the Great Wall of Djokovic?
Thiem’s following grew throughout the tournament because of his unbelievable attack.
Is there currently a more pleasant sight in tennis than when Thiem rocks back and unleashes a backhand winner?
But not even Thiem’s firecrackers from the baseline could fluster the cool-as-a-cucumber Djokovic.
The only time Djokovic seems frazzled was when he perceived that he was on the wrong end of a bad umpiring call or when he encountered an over exuberant fan in the crowd mid-point.
Thiem, twice a runner up at the French Open, is fully aware of what it takes to win a grand slam final now that he has lost three.
Winning on the big stage, however, is the hard part.
The 26-year-old felt like he could not have given more on the night and that Djokovic was too good in a marathon match.
“It was always going to be a match when very small details decide it,” Thiem said.
“The final was a great match. I don’t really regret anything.”
Thiem feels like he has what it takes to win a major.
He has proven to himself that he can last the distance in the pressure cooker of a grand slam.
“I’m really aware and sure now that I can play on a very high level for a full grand slam,” Thiem said. “I didn’t have any drops.
“It makes me confident for the big tournaments that are coming up.”