There were shocks, there were upsets, but in the end two heavyweights of the game have ended up in Sunday’s 2020 Australian Open men’s singles final. Novak Djokovic has won more Australian Open titles than any other male player while Dominic Thiem looks ready to win his first Grand Slam title having made great strides in recent times.
This should be a contest befitting of the occasion with both players boasting big games. Many expected this to be a final between the world number one, Rafael Nadal, and the number two seed, but Thiem earned his place by beating the Spaniard in the quarter finals. Will this be a changing of the guard at the top of men’s tennis? Here are two picks for Sunday’s final at Melbourne Park.
Dominic Thiem v Novak Djokovic
Sunday 2 February, Australian Open men’s singles final
He was the overwhelming pre-tournament favorite and Djokovic is just one more win away from delivering. Victory on Sunday would carry the Serbian to a record eighth Australian Open men’s singles title and set him up for another successful season. Djokovic, of course, has history in his sights and wants to become the greatest male player of all time. Another title here would take him to 17 Grand Slam titles, just two behind Nadal and three behind Roger Federer.
Djokovic has yet to lose a match in 2020 and has dropped just one set (in the first round) on his way to this Australian Open final. The 32-year-old was especially impressive against Federer in the semi finals, seeing off the Swiss in straight sets. The first set illustrated just how difficult it is to put away Djokovic, with the Serbian fighting back from 5-2 down to win the tie breaker. Even when he looks beaten, he never is.
Once considered a clay court specialist, Thiem has really developed his hard court game of late. The Austrian has been proactive in trying to shorten points and has improved his play at the net as well. This was crucial in his four-set victory over Sascha Zverev in the semi finals and he will need to find similar touch to get past Djokovic.
Thiem won two of his three meetings with Djokovic in 2019, beating the Serbian on a hard court at the ATP Tour Finals. The Austrian came back from a set down in that match, making it even more note-worthy. In fact, Thiem has won four of their last six meetings since 2017. However, Djokovic often keeps his best tennis for these occasions and hasn’t lost a Grand Slam final dating all the way back to the 2016 US Open (when he lost to Stan Wawrinka).
At +340, there is value in taking Thiem to win. He is one of the few players to have the game to stick with Djokovic from the baseline and his recent win over the Serbian should give him confidence. This is also the Austrian’s third Grand Slam final and so the occasion shouldn’t overwhelm him.
And yet it’s still so difficult to look past Djokovic the way he is playing at the moment. The Serbian has history on his shoulders, but rather than burden him this pressure seems to focus him. Thiem should make this competitive and the slower than usual courts should make for some dramatic rallies, but Djokovic has the edge in almost every way.