Novak Djokovic defended his Australian Open crown and won a 17th Grand Slam after digging deep into his physical and mental reserves to beat Dominic Thiem in a gripping five-set final. The Serbian second seed won 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 for a record-extending eighth title at Melbourne Park. Djokovic, 32, twice called the doctor while trailing before fighting back. Austrian fifth seed Thiem, 26, still awaits his first major title after losing a third Grand Slam final.
Djokovic, who fluctuated from steely brilliance to being emotionally erratic and back again, took the first of two championship points when Thiem pulled a forehand wide. With Thiem getting plenty of support throughout in the Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic celebrated by putting a finger to his lip to shush some of the crowd, then breaking out in a grin before pointing to his box. Djokovic, who said he had been “on the brink of losing” when dehydration affected his energy levels, solemnly watched as he was lauded as the ‘King of Melbourne’ before being presented with his trophy. He then gave an emotional winning speech where he talked about the “devastating” Australian bushfires, world conflicts and the death of American basketball great, and his “mentor”, Kobe Bryant. “I would like to say this is a reminder that we should stick together more than ever,” Djokovic told the 15,000 crowd. “Stay close to the people who love you. There are more important things in life.” His latest triumph moves him within three of Swiss Roger Federer’s all-time leading tally of 20 men’s singles titles, and only two behind Spain’s Rafael Nadal, who is on 19. The Serb’s fightback ensured the wait continues for somebody to break the stranglehold of the old guard, with Djokovic, Nadal and Federer having won the past 13 Grand Slam titles. No other player has won a men’s major title since Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka won the US Open title in September 2016. Djokovic will also return to the top of the world rankings, replacing Nadal, when they are published on Monday.