Chasing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for most of his career, Djokovic became the first man in the Open Era to win a grand slam title in three decades by downing big-hitter Dominic Thiem 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 in an unforgettable three-hour, 59-minute final.
He has never lost a finale in Melbourne and has now tallied a 17th major overall to pull closer to the elder pair of Federer and Nadal.
Nadal and Federer will get their chances to equal the Serb’s three-decade accomplishment in 2020 but at the year’s first grand slam, he is unquestionably in a class of his own.
Yet this final might be remembered, too, for Djokovic clashing with senior chair umpire Damien Dumusois as he served at 4-4 in the second set.
Given a time violation warning by Dumusois — Djokovic has long been one who takes his time ahead of serves like Nadal — the Frenchman issued him another warning in the same game when he exceeded the 25-second limit.
That meant he was docked a first serve. The same thing happened to Nadal in last year’s US Open final, albeit with a different umpire.
Djokovic then tapped Dumusois on the shoe as he made his way to his chair.
Once seated, he told Dumusois: “Great job, man. You made yourself famous, well done.”
Dumusois was lenient in not penalizing Djokovic further for making contact with him, ensuring things didn’t escalate — two years after Serena Williams received a game penalty in the US Open final that was sparked by receiving a warning for coaching.
The last time Djokovic and Thiem met at a grand slam, the 32-year-old also lost his cool when given a time violation in the 2019 French Open semifinals.
Whether he was rocked by the incident or feeling something physically — factoring in, too, Thiem’s improved play — Djokovic waned on a nippy Melbourne evening.
Down 4-1 in the third, the trainer visited Djokovic for a reason that wasn’t immediately clear. Earlier in the fortnight, he said he had been dealing with “different things.”
He left the court with the doctor at the end of the set and once he returned, seemed completely re-energized. He additionally mostly put away the drop shot, which fluctuated in its success rate.
Thiem, ranked 5th in the world, cracked at 3-4 to help Djokovic nab the fourth set and a considerable statistical edge. While Djokovic held a 30-10 record in fifth sets, Thiem was a mediocre 8-6.
The trend ultimately continued, Thiem erring to crucially concede serve at 1-2.
It was far from over, though, since Thiem manufactured two break points immediately.
And he had chances on both, erring on a forehand into the net with Djokovic in trouble and missing a backhand pass long down the line. The latter was more difficult but given Thiem’s propensity to hit flashy winners, he’d like the shot back.
Thiem hung on by delivering a potent serve on break point at 2-4, and it was then Djokovic’s turn to escape a jam, at 15-30.
There was no drama in the final game. Djokovic served it out to 15 when Thiem’s forehand went wide. He still hasn’t lost a match since the year began.
17 and counting
Serbia triumphed in the inaugural ATP Cup and, maybe just as important, he received some of the most vocal fan support of his career. He has always wanted to be loved — Federer and Nadal surpass him on that front — and he got his wish.
He seemed to slightly edge the support early in the final, with those on Rod Laver Arena subsequently getting behind Thiem when he fell behind 4-1.
Djokovic recently downplayed the importance of becoming the men’s all-time grand slam leader but he’d no doubt still like to get there. He trails Nadal by two and Federer by three.
As a bonus, he will usurp Nadal as the world No. 1 in the rankings come Monday.
With Djokovic, Nadal and Federer winning the last 12 majors, Thiem’s task was always going to be extremely difficult.
He spent an intense four hours on court in the quarterfinals against Nadal and endured an emotional rollercoaster against Alexander Zverev in the last four.
Entering the final having played an average of one hour more than Djokovic might have contributed to the result, no matter if the Austrian is considered one of the fittest players on the tour. He gestured, too, that he felt like vomiting in his semifinal.
Thiem has now lost all three of his grand slam finals.
Yes, you guessed it, against the all conquering Big Three.
“It’s unreal what you are doing throughout all these years,” Thiem told the crowd after the match.
“You and the other two guys brought men’s tennis to a new level. I’m really happy I can compete at these times.”