Novak Djokovic has won seven Australian Opens; every time the Serbian has made the final he’s won the event. He’ll be playing against a opponent he knows well, the Austrian with the sledgehammer backhand, Dominic Thiem. Novak leads the head to head 6-4 but Thiem has won the last four out of five, this will be an intriguing match up.
In this era of Federer, Rafa and Novak historically these are the matches that go a long way to deciding who is the best ever and for every lost final it’s a missed opportunity. Novak knows this, he is on 16 Slams, four behind Federer, it’s a safe bet the Swiss will have one or two more real chances to add to his tally, most likely at Wimbledon, on the slick grass. This is a huge match for Novak; he has a chance to close the gap.
Why Novak will win
The conditions suit Novak perfectly, slow medium court with balls that fluff up after a couple of games. Watch the slow motion shots on the TV coverage and see ball fuzz surrounding the players after they’ve hit a shot, it’s a perfect match for Novak’s grinding baseline game. He’s added some speed to his serve as well which helps with free points. Also, Thiem has to be somewhat gassed after brutal long matches against Nadal and Zverev, a lot will depend on if he can recover. Novak will be the fresher of the two if it gets to five sets. Novak plays like Novak he wins.
Why Thiem will win
His tough matches in the lead up to this final are a double-edged sword; they either wear him out physically or mentally prepare him for the close moments in this final, the twenty six year old has had to deal with a lot of tough situations to get here. If mentally he can overcome the tiredness then he’s a chance. Expect lots of backhands up the line to open up his inside out forehand, it’s a lethal one two punch. To win Thiem needs to run the adrenalin on nitrous till its empty and hope Novak gets tight.
This match is Novak’s to lose; he’s on a 15 match-winning streak through the ATP Cup and this Slam, he’s virtually dominated every opponent these two weeks. Against a compromised Federer he should have lost that first set after being down 1-4 and two break points but somehow got out of it and ended up winning in straight sets. Its classic Novak, he somehow finds a way out of these situations.
This will be Thiem’s third Grand Slam final so he’s no stranger to the big moment but did admit after the Zverev semi that he felt sick to his stomach with nerves, which isn’t exactly a good omen. The advantage for him here is that as an underdog the pressure should be minimal and he shouldn’t feel so nervous.
Take notice where Thiem court positioning is in the rallies, if he’s ten feet behind the baseline he’s adopted the clay court mentality and is looking to grind away at Novak, if he is closer to the baseline, 3 or 4 feet, he is looking to take the initiative, this strategy is the Austrian’s best chance, he has the power to end points, no matter how quick Novak is, the issue is can Thiem keep it going over 5 sets. I think it will be close and we’ll likely see a tiebreak or two but ultimately Novak will find a way though and win in 4 sets.