2020 Australian Open Final Preview: Can Thiem make his Grand Slam breakthrough against Djokovic?
- 2020 Australian Open Final Preview: Djokovic vs Thiem
And then there were two. It would be Dominic Thiem vs Novak Djokovic for the 2020 Australian Open men's singles title. A two-time Grand Slam finalist up against a 16-time Grand Slam winner who is also the 7-time Australian Open winner.
Following Djokovic's win over Roger Federer in the first semifinal, in what marked the 50th match in the pair's epic rivalry, Thiem got the better of first-time Grand Slam semifinalist Alexander Zverev in four sets in the second semifinal to complete the line-up for Sunday's title clash.
The gulf in pedigree between the pair is immediately apparent as Djokovic would be playing in his 26th Grand Slam final while Thiem would look to become the newest Grand Slam champion in the Open Era since Marin Cilic lifted the 2014 US Open title.
During the course of his illustrious career, Djokovic has faced 155 different opponents in Grand Slam tournaments, failing to win against only 5 players - Marat Safin (2) and once apiece against the quartet of Guillermo Coria, Sebastian Grosjean, Juergen Melzer, and Marco Cecchinato. Apart from this group, only two other players hold a positive head to head against the Serb in majors. One of them is Rafael Nadal who has won 9 of the pair's 15 Grand Slam meetings. The other is Dominic Thiem.
Thiem first locked horns with Djokovic at a Grand Slam in the semifinals of 2016 Roland Garros where the Serb emerged victorious in straight sets en route to becoming the first player since Rod Laver (1969) to hold all 4 Grand Slam titles at the same time. However, Djokovic fell short both times in the pair's two subsequent major meetings, losing in straight sets in the 2017 Roland Garros quarterfinals and in five sets in the 2019 Roland Garros semifinals.
After winning the pair's first 5 meetings, Djokovic has won only once in their next 5 clashes, with a semifinal win at 2019 Madrid interspersed either side of losses at 2017 Roland Garros, and 2018 Monte Carlo, and losses at 2019 Roland Garros and 2019 ATP Finals. Although Djokovic won the pair's first 3 hard court meetings, Thiem registered his first win on the surface over the Serb in a thrilling round-robin clash at the 2019 ATP Finals which also happens to be the pair's latest meeting on tour.
On paper, Djokovic would start as the favorite against Thiem on Sunday, not only because of his superior Grand Slam pedigree and hard court record against the Austrian but also due to the fact that he is yet to lose in 12 matches in 2020 and has lost only one set (1R to Jan Lennard Struff) en route to his 8th Melbourne final.
Thiem has had a more circuitous route to his third Grand Slam final. The 26-year-old had to claw back a two-sets-to-one deficit against Alex Bolt in the third round and required hard-fought four-set wins over top seed Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals and Sascha Zverev in the semis respectively.
Among 14 different players to have lost their first two Grand Slam finals, Thiem would look to avoid joining Tony Roche, Ivan Lendl, Goran Ivanisevic, and Andy Murray as the only players to come up second best in their first three major title matches, while striving to join Thomas Muster (1995 Roland Garros) as the only Austrian players to lift a Grand Slam title.
But Thiem would have his task cut out against 16-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic who is on a 4-match Grand Slam final winning streak and has only 1 defeat (2016 US Open against Stanislas Wawrinka) in his last 9 Grand Slam title matches. The first set would be key to Thiem's chances of toppling the defending champion as 11 of Djokovic's 16 titles have come after the Serb had won the opening set of a major final.Published 31 Jan 2020, 21:02 IST