Australian Open 2020: Final, Preview and Prediction | Can Thiem steal Djokovic's show in Melbourne?
In a battle between two first-time semi-finalists at Melbourne, 26-year old Dominic Thiem edged past Germany’s Alexander Zverev in a tight contest 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(7-3), 7-6(7-4) and became the first-ever Austrian to enter the Australian Open final.
After apparently looking a bit off-colour in the first set, the Austrian powerhouse lifted his game to win the next three, displaying tremendous defence, finesse and an array of breathtaking forehands to seal a berth in the Australian Open final where he will take on the defending and 7-time champion, Novak Djokovic.
While Thiem had to work extremely hard to get into his first final at Melbourne, the World No.2, having dropped just a set so far, has roared into his 8th final Down Under as he eyes his 17th major title on Sunday.
In his semi-final clash, Djokovic breezed past an exhausted and injured Roger Federer in straight sets 7-6(7-1), 6-4, 6-3 and has given an impression of being simply unstoppable at this point as he heads into his 26th Grand Slam final.
On the ATP tour so far, Djokovic leads Thiem 6-4. Interestingly, after initially succumbing to five straight losses against the Serb, the Austrian has managed to win on four occasions out of pair’s last five meetings. Their most recent encounter at the Nitto ATP finals last year was an instant classic as Thiem recorded a gutsy, come from behind 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 victory over the resilient Serb. As far as their meetings at majors are concerned, they have only faced each other so far at Roland Garros where Thiem defeated Djokovic in 2019 and 2017 after being comprehensively beaten in the semi-finals of French Open in 2016.
While Thiem certainly has an upper hand over Djokovic on clay, he trails the Serb 1-3 in their clashes on the hard courts. Though Thiem is a vastly improved player now as compared to what he was in 2016 when he kept on losing to Djokovic, it will take a monumental effort from the Austrian if he fancies beating the World No.2 on the faster hard courts of Melbourne in the final, the place which has always been a happy hunting ground for the 16-time Grand Slam champion.
En route his journey to the final, while Thiem looked vulnerable in few moments especially against Rafael Nadal in the quarter-final and against Zverev in the semis, he kept on believing in himself, trusting his offence and defence and that has paid him rich dividends. Against Djokovic in the final, it will be a stern test of Thiem’s mental toughness and character as he will be up against a man of steel, playing at his own fortress at Melbourne.
Playing Djokovic in the final at Melbourne is analogous to competing against Nadal in the French Open final and Thiem, having played Nadal twice in the finals at Paris, would hope to learn from his mistakes and strategise against Djokovic so as to finally realise his dream of winning a major.
Thiem can draw huge inspiration from the fact that he has won five tie-breakers in a row (three against Nadal and two against Zverev) and against Djokovic, who is a supreme master of tie-breakers himself, it is imperative that Thiem makes every opportunity count or it can soon be curtains for the hopeful Austrian even before he realises.
As far as Djokovic is concerned, he starts as a firm favourite heading into the final and would dearly hope to record his 17th Grand Slam title, 8th at Melbourne which would leave him just two shy of Nadal’s 19 and three less than Federer’s all-time record of 20 Grand Slam triumphs.
Djokovic is 7-0 in the Australian Open finals and has won in his previous four major finals, winning Wimbledon and US Open in 2018 and Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2019. The Serb last lost a Grand Slam final in 2016 when he was stunned by Stan Wawrinka in four sets at the Arthur Ashe stadium. The only time Djokovic was close to defeat in the final at Melbourne was back in 2012 when Nadal almost pulled off a sensational come from behind victory in their all-time classic at Rod Laver Arena.
With Thiem and Djokovic in prime form, we can expect a cracker of a contest comprising of physically and mentally exhausting rallies at the Melbourne Park as Djokovic chases invincibility while Thiem eyes his breakthrough win.
Can Thiem, play a match of his lifetime to stun the 7-time Australian Open champion or will Djokovic make a mockery of Thiem’s challenge to win his 8th title Down Under? One can’t wait for the action to get underway as Djokovic takes on Thiem in the men’s final of the Australian Open 2020!
Prediction: Novak Djokovic to win in four sets