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Tennis 2020 • Ricky’s Preview And Pick For The Australian Open Final: Djokovic vs. Thiem

By Ricky Dimon

There were a pair of all-Big 3 Grand Slam finals in 2019, but before the next generation takes over (which appears to be a long way off still!) we seem to be in a transition period of Big 3 vs. non-Big 3 finals.

Another such occasion will take place when Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem battle for the Australian Open title on Sunday night. Thiem has reached this stage at each of the last two French Opens (lost to Rafael Nadal both times), while Daniil Medvedev is the other 20-something to have made a breakthrough of sorts (also lost to Nadal in the U.S. Open final last summer). Djokovic continues to rack up slams, and he has mostly done it at the expense of Nadal and Roger Federer as opposed to beating the younger crowd of Thiem, Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, and others.

Speaking of Zverev, he and Thiem collided in the semifinals on Friday night. Experience may have made the difference for Thiem, whose fifth slam semifinal appearance saw him prevail 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(4). The Austrian preceded that result with victories over Adrian Mannarino, Alex Bolt (five sets), Taylor Fritz, Gael Monfils, and Nadal.

Djokovic has endured no tests like the ones his upcoming opponent got from Nadal and Zverev. The second-ranked Serb surrendered one set to Jan-Lennard Struff in his opening match but has since reeled off consecutive straight-set wins over Tatsuma Ito, Yoshihito Nishioka, Diego Schwartzman, Milos Raonic, and a hobbled Roger Federer.

“I’ve been feeling well,” the seven-time AO champion understated. (At) the end of the day, this is my favorite court–the court where I (have) had the most success in my career.”

Success has not been easy to come by against Thiem, who is a respectable 4-6 lifetime in the head-to-head series and an impressive 4-1 in their last five encounters. They squared off three times last season, all resulting in absolute thrillers. Djokovic emerged victorious 7-6(2), 7-6(4) in Madrid before Thiem came out on top twice in a row at Roland Garros (6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 in the semifinals) and at the Nitto ATP Finals (6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(5) in round-robin competition). Three of Thiem’s four recent wins, however, have come on clay; Djokovic still leads 3-1 on hard courts.

“I have to risk a lot,” the world No. 5 assured. “I have to go for many shots. At the same time, of course, not too much. That’s a very thin line. In the last match against him, (I) hit that line perfectly in London. Of course (I’m) going to take a look at that match, how I played, and try to repeat it.

“But for sure he’s the favorite. I mean, he won seven titles here–never lost a final, going for his eighth one.”

As Thiem noted, Djokovic is an overwhelming favorite for a reason. The 16-time major winner is the best player ever at the Aussie Open and he has been the best player throughout this fortnight. Moreover, Thiem has spent seven hours and 52 minutes on court in his past two matches and he also has one less day of rest than Djokovic.

As we saw at the 2019 year-end championship, Thiem’s peak is good enough to test and even beat Djokovic. But it is much harder to sustain that kind of level in a best-of-five situation–especially on Djokovic’s Melbourne Park stomping grounds.

Pick: Djokovic in 4
Editors Pick • Dom in 5

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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