MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic extended his record by winning his eighth Australian Open singles title on Sunday, defeating Dominic Thiem 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The victory in 3 hours 59 minutes allowed Djokovic to reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal and to reassert his dominance in Melbourne.
Based on the evidence, the hardest task in men’s tennis remains defeating Nadal at the French Open.But the second-hardest task must be beating Djokovic down the stretch at the Australian Open.
He has never lost a semifinal and is now 8-0 in finals, after winning his second straight final here. He excels on all surfaces, but he has won nearly half of his 17 Grand Slam singles titles on the medium-speed hardcourts in Melbourne.
This was the third straight men’s Grand Slam final to require five sets. Djokovic saved two match points before defeating Federer at Wimbledon last year. Nadal then held off Daniil Medvedev, who had rallied from two sets down, to win the United States Open.
At the start on Sunday night, it looked like Djokovic might avoid another marathon. His form in the opening games looked similar to his dazzling display in last year’s straight-set rout of Nadal in the Australian Open final, which Djokovic considers one of the finest performances of his career.
He jumped out to a 4-1 lead, winning points from all parts of the court and with all manner of tactics: drop shots, powerful groundstrokes and penetrating first and second serves.
But Thiem, unlike Nadal, found a way to weather the early storm and get back to 4-4 before Djokovic closed out the set.
It was a taut, tense affair from there, although both players rarely peaked in unison. The second set turned Thiem’s way after Djokovic was called for consecutive time violations by the chair umpire, Damien Dumusois, when serving at 4-4.
The second violation cost him a first serve. Thiem went on to break, and Djokovic, fuming, patted Dumusois’s feet as he passed in front of his chair. “Great job, man,” Djokovic said. “You made yourself famous. Well done.”
Thiem served out the set and swept to the third as Djokovic looked increasingly sluggish and off balance. With Thiem leading 4-1, Djokovic received a visit from the medical staff but did not take an injury timeout.
But Djokovic often has looked down and out in his long career only to find a way back to a more sunlit place. He found his rhythm and energy again in the fourth set as Thiem’s level dropped, and they were soon into a fifth set, which is beginning to seem like the rule in major men’s tennis.
It has been so many years that Djokovic has now won Australian Open titles in the 2000s, the 2010s and the 2020s. It will be interesting to see if Federer or Nadal can manage to match winning the same tournament in three different decades as the rivals continue to push and inspire each other.
For now, Federer holds the men’s record of 20 Grand Slam singles titles, Nadal has 19 and Djokovic 17.
What makes those numbers more remarkable is that many of their victories have come after the age of 30 — once considered a barrier to achievement in the men’s game.
No longer. Djokovic, 32, and Nadal, 33, have won five major titles in their thirties. Federer, 38, has won four.
That is unprecedented and explains why no active player in his twenties has won a Grand Slam singles title. Thiem, a 26-year-old Austrian with a spectacular baseline game, has come the closest.
This was his third major final after losing to Nadal at the French Open in 2018 and 2019. In the last four years, he has had the most success against the Big Three and had defeated Djokovic in four of their last five matches, including a French Open semifinal last year.
He has made bold moves off the court in the past year, splitting with Günter Bresnik, his longtime coach and mentor and hiring Nicolás Massú, the former Olympic singles champion from Chile.
Thiem was also quick to end his coaching relationship with Thomas Muster, a former world No. 1 and a fellow Austrian whom Thiem had hired this season.
Massú has helped Thiem improve his chances on faster courts. He is no longer just a great clay-court player, as he proved last year with a hardcourt title at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., defeating Federer in the final.
He reaffirmed that in Melbourne by reaching his first Australian Open final.
“He flattens his shots out much more,” said Alexander Zverev, the seventh-seeded German Thiem beat in four tough sets in the semifinals. “Before he was a complete clay-court player, a lot of movement, a lot of running around, stuff like that. Now he has a complete hardcourt game.”
But he has yet to beat Djokovic on an outdoor hardcourt, where Djokovic is at his most intimidating with his explosive movement and precise groundstrokes.
It is quite a package on any surface, in any city, but Melbourne is where Djokovic has put it all together best.