February 2, 2020

The Dominance Down Under

It probably comes as no surprise that, here we are with the 2020 Australian Open all wrapped up, and we have yet again crowned Novak Djokovic as champion.

But at various points throughout Sunday's final, it didn't always seem clear that that would be the case. And the fact that it is shows just how much of a force the Serb is on these courts.

Novak came back to Melbourne the defending champion and the #2 seed, and he hadn't dropped a set this fortnight since a hiccup at the very beginning of his opening round. His opponent Dominic Thiem, meanwhile, had been tested a few times, fighting back from 1-2 sets down against wildcard Alex Bolt in the second round and slugging through more than four hours on court with Rafael Nadal in the quarters. In all he'd already spent nearly 16 hours on court before his last match in Melbourne, compared to about 12 and a half for Djokovic.

But it was surprisingly Thiem who seemed to be more in control in the early parts of Sunday -- while Nole won the first set, the Austrian roared back in the second, winning six straight games and building a 2-1 set lead on the heavy favorite. It was the first time Djokovic had lost two set in a Melbourne final since 2012.

Still, as he so often does, the thirty-two year old was able to shake off exhaustion, dehydration, and whatever else seemed to be ailing him in the early parts of the match, breaking late in the fourth set and never looking back. While Thiem kept it close and stayed admirably resilient given how much ball he'd played over the past two weeks, he was unable to break the seal and, for now, remains winless in his three Grand Slam final opportunities.

Djokovic's performance in Australia not only earns him a record eighth trophy there, but keeps the family of Major titleholders to an exclusive group -- Nole, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal have won every one since 2017 and ceded only a handful going back some 15 years. Unlike the women, who've seen a parade of first-time champions over the last several years, the latest coming just yesterday, it's been almost impossible for anyone to break the stranglehold these three have at the biggest events.

But perhaps we are starting to see some cracks in the armor. I predicted a few weeks back that this might be the year we finally see a new name in the champion's stand. For a few moments today it seemed like that could be Thiem. (And a few months ago Daniil Medvedev looked like he was ready to step up.) It seems clear that the talent is there in the younger generation -- it just needs a little more refinement before it truly shines on the big stage.

And here's hoping we start to see some of that soon -- because the guys at the top sure seem a long way away from just stepping aside and letting them take over.

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