Dominic Thiem will take on world No.2 Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open men’s final. Picture: Getty Images.
Dominic Thiem will take on world No.2 Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open men’s final. Picture: Getty Images.

Thiem needs to go to another level to beat Djokovic

Melbourne Park is a fortress for Novak Djokovic.

And while on paper his chances might be slim, Dominic Thiem has the weapons to dismantle the Serbian superstar tonight.

But it will take something special.

He's been so good this tournament, but will have to go to a new level tonight. It can be done.

I just hope he's gone back and looked at last year's final to know exactly what he's in for from the second he walks onto Rod Laver Arena tonight.

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Dominic Thiem will take on world No.2 Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open men’s final. Picture: Getty Images.
Dominic Thiem will take on world No.2 Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open men’s final. Picture: Getty Images.

Djokovic was ridiculous from the first ball against Rafael Nadal this time last year - he'll allow Thiem, who was broken in the first game against Zverev, no time to work into the match.

He can't falter early or Djokovic will sense the kill.

He's got to have every expectation that Novak will come out exactly the same, and that was just about the best match he's ever played.

But that's the Djokovic you have to prepare to play - not hope that he's going to be at something of a lower level.

The crowd could also be another factor tonight. For whatever reason, people have never really embraced Djokovic like they have a Roger or a Rafa.

Are they going to get behind Thiem? He hasn't been in this situation in Australia before, and a lot of the crowd is probably only just learning about him.

 

How will Novak handle it if the crowd really gets behind the Austrian?

The biggest question mark is going to come around how much tennis Dominic Thiem has played. He was good against Zverev on Friday night, don't get me wrong, but he wasn't the Thiem we saw in the quarter-final against Nadal.

He was pushed to another four sets, and he was struggling with some sort of sickness, too. The reality is, he's played a lot of tennis - close to 18 hours this fortnight, compared with Djokovic sitting at just over 12.

He looked a step slower, and if he has any chance to beat Novak, that can't happen. He's got to be at peak movement, peak hitting - basically like he was against Rafa but almost at another level again.

 

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HOW DJOKOVIC CAN WIN IT

He's going to hold the baseline more and understand that Thiem's played a lot of tennis, and has been getting pushed a long way back in a lot of matches, but when he's been at his best is when he's been up in the court, striking. Novak can take that stuff away. If he stands up in the court, takes time away from Thiem and pushes him back, it will go a long way.

He'll also make it physical. He knows he's as fit as any player in the world, if not the fittest, and will throw it down to Thiem and say 'you're going to have to play your best tennis, after playing 18 hours and back to back tough four-setters'. It's a dance Djokovic loves, and he'll draw on the fact he's got seven wins from seven finals here - that's a stat you can't argue with.

 

HOW THIEM CAN WIN IT

The problem when playing Novak, power doesn't normally beat him. He absorbs pace so well. He moves so well across the baseline. The way you beat him is to mix it up - a little bit like Roger did on Thursday night. Use the slice, come forward, serve well. And whether Dominic Thiem has that in his game to do it is going to be the biggest question. If he just goes toe-to-toe from the baseline, Novak is just so good. That's why he's got seven titles here.

The demons of Djokovic's Melbourne Park dominance will run through his head at some point. "Can I win a title?," he'll think. He's lost two grand slam finals. Novak doesn't have those - he's won it seven times. You can't block that out, but if he can focus on the fact he's beaten Novak before, not in a match of this stature, but you've got to draw on whatever you can. He's also beaten the No. 1 player in the world at this tournament.

I don't think we're giving him no chance - it's just a small chance. But it's there. And that's all you need.

 

GROTH'S VERDICT

Novak Djokovic in straights - 6-3 7-5 6-2.

At the moment, Dominic Thiem has come along in huge leaps and bounds and has shown that on hardcourt, he can match it with the best. But Novak is still physically, technically, tactically and mentally better.


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