Novak Djokovic negotiated his way through a tricky ebb-and-flow battle with Dominic Thiem on Sunday to win the Australian Open for an eighth time.
The Serb will return to No. 1 after a 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 effort which denied his Austrian opponent a first career Grand Slam trophy, ending the Thiem Dream for this edition.
Fifth-seeded Thiem had lost Roland Garros title matches over the past two seasons to Rafael Nadal and went down fighting against Djokovic in a shade over four hours.
The key to the up-and-down match came in the fifth set after Djokovic had looked to be sliding to a defeat.
The second seed managed a break for 2-1 in the deciding set, with Djokovic maintaining until the end as Thiem sent a forehand wide on match point.
“Congrats to Dominic for an amazing tournament,” the winner said. “It was not meant to be tonight.
“But I”m sure you will win more than one Grand Slam in the future.You were very close to winning it.
“We’ve had some devastating things to start 2020: bushfires, people dying on conflicts in some parts of the world every day..
“Someone I considered a mentor, Kobe Bryant passed away with his daughter. This all should be a reminder to be with our families and stay close to the people who love and care about you.,
“We try our best on court, but there are more important things in life. We need to be humble about the things happening around us.”
Djokovic called the Melbourne Park showcase venue “my favourite court and stadium in the world.”
“I’m blessed to hold this trophy again.”
Djokovic, now with 17 Grand Slam titles, had his loyal Serbian fans, but much of the crowd in the Rod Laver arena gave their vocal support to Thiem .
Djokovic received his trophy from 2005 tournament champion Marat Safin as ran his finals record here to 8-0.
Thiem had won four of his last five matches against Djokovic, who was twice seen by the doctor mid-match.
“Huge congrats to Novak and his team,” Thiem said. “It was an amazing achievement, it’s unreal what you have been doing.
“You and two others (Roger Federer, Nadal) have brought tennis to a completely different level.
“I fell a bit short today, I’m hoping for my revenge soon.”
He added: “There are way more important things in life, like what this beautiful country is going through.
“The Open is a good distraction. I hope the country and the wildlife and animals can recover soon and that a disaster like this does not happen again.
“I’m already looking forward to coming back here next year.”
In addition to the distraction of the crowd, Djokovic had a run-in with the chair umpire as he protested a point penalty for time-wasting.
He could have gotten even more grief from his second-set discussion after he protested his point penalty by touching the umpire’s foot to get his attention before berating Damien Dumusois for the call.
“You’ve made yourself famous, well done,” he complained.
Under a strict interpretation of the rules, the touching could be defined as “physical abuse.”
Thiem played timid at the start as Djokovic dominated early for a 3-0 lead.
The Austrian pulled himself together for 1-3 and got the break back , 3-4 as Djokovic netted a backhand.
Thiem gained confidence, saving a Djokovic set point in the 10th game after a 19-shot rally but proceeded to double-fault away the set as the Serb seed took it 6-4 after 52 minutes.
Djokovic repeated that same error to fall behind 1-2 in the second set after saving a pair of break points.
The Austrian who had beaten Djokovic twice in matches at the Grand Slams, lost the break as the second seed levelled at 4-all.
But relief did not last long as his opponent sent a frustrated forehand long as Thiem surged to 5-4.
The Austrian sent a forehand screamer down the line for three set points,
With his temper fraying, Djokovic’s game began to unravel, with the Serb going down a double break with a forehand into the net to trail 0-3
He sealed 4-0 with an ace, taking a tight grip on the contest. Thiem then laid on a love game for 5-1.
Thiem finally took a two-sets-to-one lead but only after Djokovic saved three set points; the Austrian took the lead when Djokovic sent a lazy forehand into the net.
The defending champion was seen by the doctor twice in the set after a previous visit during his win over Federer in the quarters.
He was taken off court for treatment after losing the set but was back after a few minutes.
Djokovic was somehow able to stop the rot in the fourth set, breaking for 5-3 and finishing the next game with an ace to take the final into a deciding fifth for the third time in four years here.
Djokovic closed to within three titles of Federer’s leading 20, while Nadal stands on 19.
Djokovic will regain the ATP spot while Thiem will remain fourth.
Djokovic is the first man in the Open Era to win Grand Slam titles in three different decades –and just the second in history after Ken Rosewall, who major titles in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.