How it happened: Djokovic denies Thiem in five for 17th major title

How it happened: Djokovic denies Thiem in five for 17th major title

The Serbian will return to world No. 1 after capturing his eighth Australian Open crown Sunday night in Melbourne, winning for the first time in eight major finals after being down two sets to one.

How it happened: A set-by-by breakdown of Djokovic's five-set win over Thiem
Drucker Down Under: Thiem's education continues as Djokovic wins an eighth Australian Open
Tignor: From "turbulent" to triumphant in Melbourne: Djokovic rises once again
17 Slams, 17 Stats: Numeric takeaways from Nole's victory
Flink: Thiem made his move in Australian Open final, but Djokovic held steady

Novak Djokovic edged Dominic Thiem, 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, to become the 2020 Australian Open champion Sunday evening in Melbourne. The victory marked his eighth title at the Happy Slam and brings Djokovic within three majors of Roger Federer's record of 20. Read below to recap Djokovic's comeback win over the Austrian, which saw him improve to 31-10 in five-setters.

Djokovic in press

On what made the difference in the end:

"He was a better player. Probably one point and one shot separated us tonight. 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 differently. Serve and volley is not something I'm accustomed to. I'm not really doing that that often. I kind of recognized that as an important tactics in those circumstances, and I'm really happy it worked."

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On the time violations he received at 4-4 in the second set:

"The first one, fine, no problem. The second one, it's just not necessary under the circumstances for a experienced chair umpire. I thought probably he, in my opinion, could have reacted a little bit better in that situation. These kind of things in games switch the momentum of the match. It was a very important game."

On what's next:

"I do have professional goals. Grand Slams are one of the main reasons why I am still competing and still playing full season, trying to obviously get the historic No. 1. That's the other big goal. I put myself in this position that is really good at the moment. I'm super happy with the way I started the season. It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the year."

Thiem in press

On how he's feeling after losing in a fifth set:

"I think I've rarely felt physically that tired, especially now after all the tension's gone. I played an unbelievable intense match against Rafa, such an intense match against Sascha in the semis. Today again I think almost over four hours. I think that was very demanding. Of course, I just feel a lot of emptiness right now. But, yeah, that's it."

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On what's required to dethrone the Big 3 at the majors:

"I think it's only small details. In the last two finals, US Open and here, it was really close. It could have gone either way for Daniil in US Open and for me here. There's nothing special to say about it. It takes nothing more than just little bit luck, little details there. Maybe if I convert the break point in the fourth set, maybe I'm sitting here as a winner."

"I'm happy I can compete with these guys on the best level. I really hope also that I win my maiden slam when they're still around because it just counts more, yeah."

On what he's taking with him from Melbourne:

"I'm very aware and sure now that I can play on a very high level for a full Grand Slam. Didn't have any drops. That doesn't make me proud, but it makes me very confident for the next big tournaments which are coming up."

Trophy ceremony

Novak Djokovic: "As Dominic was saying, there was some devastating things that started in 2020, with the huge bush fires here in Australia. Obviously, one person that I considered close in my life and was a mentor to me, Kobe Bryant, passed away as well with his daughter. I would just like to say that this is a reminder to all of us that we should stick together more than ever. Be with our families, stay close to the people that love you and care about you." 

"It's definitely my favorite court, my favorite stadium in the world. I'm blessed to hold this trophy once again."

Dominic Thiem: "You and two other guys brought men's tennis to a completely new level. I'm really proud and happy that I can compete in these times and period in tennis. I fell a little bit short today but hopefully I can [get] revenge soon."

"There are way more important things in life. It's very tough what this beautiful country has been through and still going through. The Australian Open was a great distraction but I hope all the people, all the wildlife and animals that were affected, are recovering soon and that a disaster like this is never happening again."

Fifth set: Djokovic wins, 6-4

11:46PM—SEVENTEEN AND COUNTING! Djokovic completes the comeback win in three hours and 59 minutes. He's now 16-0 in the semifinal and final stage at Melbourne Park. A simply sensational stat for the Serbian.

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11:41PM—Thiem will force Djokovic to think about closing this out on his serve after holding to get to the changeover.

11:38PM—Thiem had a slight window at 15-30, but Djokovic wins three straight points to reach 5-3.

11:32PM—Staring down a break point, Thiem stays alive in a must-win game. Djokovic will step to the line, up 4-3, after heating his name reverberate throughout the crowd once again.

11:24PM—Clutch hitting and serving from Djokovic. He's two games from his 17th major trophy.

11:20PM—The door came close to shutting, but Thiem, who was pushed to deuce, escapes to hold.

11:16PM—Two break points averted by Djokovic. You can feel the nerves exuding from both sides of the court. Djokovic was brave in serving and volleying on the second one he faced, though was a bit fortunate Thiem overhit his backhand pass.

11:08PM—It's a break for Djokovic, who leads 2-1. Sloppy ball-striking from Thiem undid him when he was broken in the fourth, and it comes back to haunt him again. All four points Djokovic won were courtesy of unforced errors from across the net.

11:04PM—The Serbian immediately counters with a love hold. Sending a message to Thiem, perhaps? The Austrian won, 7-5, in the fifth over Djokovic at Roland Garros last year.

11:02PM—Important hold for Thiem, resetting after seeing the fourth get away from him completely. Djokovic enters carrying a 30-10 record in deciding fifth sets.

Fourth set: Djokovic wins, 6-3

10:56PM—And just like that, we're going five! Djokovic slams the door shut at love. STAT: Djokovic is 0-7 in major finals after falling behind two sets to one. Can he flip the script?

10:54PM—Djokovic will serve to force a decider. Thiem double faulted to fall behind 15-40, and the No. 2 seed converted his second chance to break for the first time since the eighth game of the second set.

10:49PM—Djokovic has elevated his serve, hitting targets left and right. He's 13 for 15 on his first serve in this set.

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10:46PM—It's 3-3, folks. Things tightened up in reaching deuce, but Thiem stays assertive to shift the pressure back to Djokovic.

10:39PM—A hold at love from Djokovic and his energy is building. Is this where he looks to make a move on his opponent's serve?

10:37PM—Tremendous reading on the court from Thiem, whose all-court game continues to shine. 2-2.

10:32PM—Errors continue to hamper the Serbian, but he digs in to save break point, rushing the net for consecutive volley winners. A kind kiss from the net ended the game.

10:27PM—Thiem closes with an ace to match Djokovic with a solid opening service game.

10:23PM—Djokovic left the court for a set break, and comes out with a positive start by hitting two winners.

Third set: Thiem wins, 6-2

10:14PM—Thiem is a set away from his first major title. It took four set points and required wiping away a break point, before surviving the tense moment. In his seven previous Melbourne finals, Djokovic has gone five sets just once—the longest final in the tournament's history eight years ago when he outlasted Rafael Nadal. Latest winners to unforced errors count: Thiem 36 to 34; Djokovic 28 to 40.

10:04PM—A quick response from Djokovic, and Thiem will now look to close out the set.

10:02PM—A fast game for Thiem, who extends his advantage to 5-1.

9:58PM—Djokovic stops the bleeding. Finally on the board, though Thiem leads 4-1. The doctor is out for a visit with Djokovic.

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9:55PM—Make that six successive games for Thiem, since Djokovic received the two time violation warnings on serve. A backhand block lob got him to game point and he followed it up with an ace out wide.

9:48PM—A double break lead for Thiem, 3-0. Djokovic now at -16 in his differential (19 winners to 35 unforced errors). Have to believe he'll find another gear at some point to change that, but Thiem is fully in the driver's seat right now.

9:44PM—The Austrian fends off a break point. Thiem's backhand down the line has been inconsistent, but a well-struck stroke kept him alive.

9:38PM—Thiem breaks right off the bat. Some level of concern for Djokovic, who has showed signs of deceleration on his serve and now, his forehand.

Second set: Thiem wins, 6-4

9:28PM—Thiem finishes off the bizarre set to even the clash at one set apiece. Djokovic finished with 7 winners to 13 unforced in Set 2.

9:23PM—The tide turns again, as Thiem will now serve for the set. After tossing in his third double fault, Djokovic was given a time violation warning from chair umpire Damien Dumusois. He undercut a backhand drop shot, before receiving another violation to lose his first serve. Djokovic pushed a forehand well long to get broken. "Great job. You made yourself famous. Well done," remarked Djokovic from his bench after he sat down.

9:18PM—Djokovic breaks back and it's 4-4. Thiem was all over the map, hitting winners but missing neutral ball shots. Djokovic patiently rides it out to draw level. "Nole!" chants start up again.

9:11PM—After changing racquets, Djokovic puts his frustration behind with an efficient hold.

9:08PM—Thiem overcomes a double fault to save break point. A 98 m.p.h. inside-out forehand winner did the trick, and he carried that confidence to get across the line.

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9:01PM—A much-needed recovery from Djokovic. Thiem to serve up 3-2 after the changeover.

8:58PM—A little extra kick in Thiem's step right now. No issue in backing up his early break advantageaided by correctly challenging a Djokovic drop shot winner that was confirmed out with the replay system.

8:54PM—Thiem strikes first to break for 2-1. Djokovic's serve went on and off the rails, marred by his second double fault of the game to drop serve.

8:46PM—The two players got their electric slide on, before Thiem posts his strongest service game of the night.

8:43PM—A love hold to kick off set two for Djokovic. Thiem will have to pinpoint his first serve to avoid early pressure.

First set: Djokovic wins, 6-4

8:39PM—The world No. 2 takes a one-set lead after 52 minutes. After saving set point, Thiem was a point from tying things up. A yanked inside-in forehand cost him and he would end the set with a double fault.

8:30PM—Djokovic ends the three-game skid and now up 5-4. Thiem will serve to stay in it.

8:26PM—The Austrian erases a break point to level the set. Thiem saved it with a tremendous read to punch a volley into the open court and stayed aggressive to close out the crucial game.

8:20PM—Thiem breaks back and it's 3-4. Two Djokovic unforced errors gave the No. 5 seed a 15-30 window and he capitalized by ending a sensational 24-shot rally with an inside-out forehand winner. Djokovic then dumped a backhand into the net, before the crowd erupted in applause.

8:16PM—A 40-0 lead slipped, though Thiem recovers for his second hold. Waiting to see whether the weight of shot he brought in wins over Nadal and Zverev comes alive, or if Djokovic's superb timing will continue to minimize the Austrian's full impact. Stat: through three service games, Djokovic 15 points played, Thiem forced to play 30.

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8:08PM—On the flip side, Djokovic giving Thiem little to look at. He's making 80% of his first serves thus far and leads 4-1.

8:05PM—Thiem is on the board after being pushed to deuce again. He's 0 for 5 in his second serve points.

7:59PM—The seven-time champ quickly consolidates. Hardly a surprise to see Novak so relaxed and locked in, but nevertheless, an impressive champion's quality that has enabled him to set the tone from the start.

7:57PM—The Serbian breaks for early 2-0 lead. Thiem led 40-15, but brilliant defense from Djokovic set up break point and he would win the 12-point game when Thiem netted a forehand.

7:48PM—Djokovic, who won the coin toss, hits back-to-back aces to hold comfortably. 

7:38PM—Before the players walked out for intros, CFA firefighters were honored and given a standing ovation for their efforts in combating ongoing bush fires.

Pre-match Notes

Djokovic is seeking a record-extending eighth title at Melbourne Park, which would see him usurp Rafael Nadal for world No. 1. With his win over Roger Federer in the last four, the 32-year-old improved to a combined 15-0 overall—and 12-0 against Top 5 opposition—in semifinals and title matches at the Happy Slam. A 17th major title would bring him within three of Federer’s men’s record of 20 and has prevailed in eight of his past nine Grand Slam final appearances.

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Thiem is contesting his first major final away from Roland Garros and hopes to become the first non-Big 3 member to triumph since the 2016 US Open (Wawrinka). While Djokovic leads their head-to-head 6-4, the Austrian’s four wins have come in their five most recent meetings, including a gripping three-set victory at the 2019 ATP Finals. A victory would see Thiem become the first ATP player born in the 1990s to lift a major trophy and propel him to a career-high No. 3.

Djokovic, who had an extra day’s rest, will undoubtedly be the fresher of the two. According to the tournament’s physical battle profiles, Djokovic is yet to be pushed to “high” in any of the measurements over the fortnight, which includes four “low” readings over his six encounters in high intensity changes.

On the contrary, Thiem’s last two matches show the physical toll taken. He ran 3.6 kilometers (2.24 miles) in both his wins over Nadal and Alexander Zverev and has expended 1.75 times the energy of Djokovic when comparing the Serbian’s latest pair of wins (2277 to 1301 calories).