By Sudipto Ganguly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Dominic Thiem finished second-best for the third time in a Grand Slam final on Sunday, but the 26-year-old Austrian will leave Melbourne Park confident that he is not too far away from becoming a major winner.
Novak Djokovic withstood a fierce challenge before overhauling Thiem 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 to clinch an eighth Australian Open crown.
The Serb’s triumph – which took his Grand Slam haul to 17 titles – meant tennis’ Big Three of Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal have now shared the last 13 majors between them.
Over the past 19 months, Thiem has had three chances to break that iron grip.
He fell in straight sets to ‘King of Clay’ Nadal in the 2018 French Open final but took the 12-time Roland Garros champion to four sets last June.
On Sunday, the Austrian appeared to be heading toward a four-set victory before Djokovic mounted a spectacular comeback to deny him again.
“I think there’s not much to change,” Thiem said. “Also in the last two sets, I definitely gave everything I had. Well, Novak is part of three guys who are by far the best players to have ever played tennis.
“If you play a Grand Slam finals against him, it’s always going to be a match where very small details are deciding.
“Of course, there were some small mistakes here and there, but they happen. At the end, (it) was a super close five-setter. I don’t really regret anything.”
Thiem had a slow start as Djokovic built a 3-0 lead on his way to winning the opening set.
When it seemed like it will be a repeat of last year when Djokovic thrashed Nadal in a one-sided final, Thiem bounced back.
The packed Rod Laver Arena crowd, who were left gasping during the Serb’s flawless display in the opening set, got behind the Austrian challenger in the hope of inspiring him to give them a proper contest.
Thiem did not disappoint.
“I’m happy I can compete with these guys on the best level,” said Thiem, who in the quarter-finals had beaten Nadal in a slam for the first time after five previous failed attempts.
“I really hope also that I win my maiden slam when they’re still around because it just counts more, yeah.”
Once Djokovic rallied back to get the match on level terms, Thiem started feeling the strain having endured a difficult campaign in the last two weeks.
While Djokovic lost a single set on his way to the final, Thiem had spent a total of eight hours on court in his last two matches alone.
“I didn’t have easy matches, especially from the quarters on. Beating Rafa in over four hours, then two days later going back out again against Sascha (Zverev),” he said. “Unbelievably intense, close match.
“I’m very aware and sure now that I can play on a very high level for a full Grand Slam. Didn’t have any drops. That doesn’t make me proud, but it makes me very confident for the next big tournaments which are coming up.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Pritha Sarkar)