While the women’s final was a total shock with Sofia Kenin stunning the tennis and sporting world winning the title, the men’s final at the Australian Open is very much chalk. Few would not have picked Novak Djokovic to return to the final and I don’t think Dominic Thiem is much of an outsider.
Thiem does his best work on the clay but has proven he can do damage on hard courts, doing well at Indian Wells last year and at the ATP Finals in London.
He had a slow start at the ATP Cup, and then had a tough second round 5-set match against Alex Bolt. Maybe the Thomas Muster coaching split has done him good, I don’t know, but he played really well beating Rafael Nadal then scraped by against Alexander Zverev. It wasn’t Thiem’s best performance in his win over Zverev, but in this sport you don’t get added points for how you look, it’s the wins or losses that matter.
Thiem’s also has won four of his last five matches against Djokovic, though the Serb leads 6-4 overall. So heading into the final Sunday night in Melbourne he has to be feeling pretty good about he chances and where his game is at right now.
The problem is, he’s coming off two rugged matches against Nadal and Zverev and he’s had one fewer day of recoery than Djokovic. And this is Novak’s home court. He’s 7-0 in the Australian Open final, he’s extremely well rested (only lost 1 set), has the motivation of closing that gap with Federer and the No. 1 ranking that comes with it. There’s a lot of history at stake here.
He’s also lost his last two matches to Thiem in Grand Slam play at the French and that thriller at the Finals, so perhaps he’ll have something a little extra?
In this matchup, the biggest shot on the court is the Thiem forehand. So Dominic will try to dictate off that wing. But Thiem’s problem on a slower hard court is his deep court positioning and serve/return of serve. So if Djokovic serves well or if Novak gets a lot of looks at the Thiem second serve, that will spell trouble for Austrian.
Nerves are also going to be a factor. Thiem admitted he was in knots early on against Zverev, so it wouldn’t be much of leap to think he’ll be dealing with something similar Sunday. But he’s been in two prior Slam finals and a hardcourt Masters title match, so this isn’t totally new.
I think Thiem puts up a really good fight, pushes Djokovic hard but Djokovic is the fresher, more experienced guy and he’s won this title too many times. I’ll give it to the Serb here in a very, very tight one…
The Pick: Djokovic in 5
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