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Australian Open: Novak Djokovic must ‘go up a level’ to beat Dominic Thiem

Novak Djokovic won his seventh Australian Open title in 2019
2020 Australian Open men’s singles final
Venue: Melbourne Park Date: Sunday, 2 February Time: 08:30 GMT
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live and online; Live text on the BBC Sport website and app; Watch highlights on BBC Two (13:30 GMT) and BBC iPlayer.

Novak Djokovic will have to “go up another level” if he is to beat Dominic Thiem and win a record-extending eighth Australian Open men’s singles title, says Pat Cash.

Serbia’s Djokovic meets Austrian fifth seed Thiem at 08:30 GMT on Sunday.

Second seed Djokovic, 32, goes for his 17th Grand Slam title, while Thiem, 26, bids for a first.

“Thiem has a real chance,” said Australian Cash, who won Wimbledon in 1987.

“He hits the ball as big, he can last forever, he is super quick.

“It is really going to come down to whether he has the energy to outlast Novak.”

Djokovic has lost only three matches in the past 10 tournaments at Melbourne Park and has eased through this year’s draw.

Thiem reached the final after what he called “super intense” victories over Spanish top seed Rafael Nadal in the last eight and Germany’s seventh seed Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals.

“Djokovic has cruised through so easily, he hasn’t had a lot of tough competition,” added Cash, who will analyse the match on BBC Radio 5 live.

“Certainly not in the style Thiem brings. That is the only question mark for me.”

Thiem counting on adrenaline of reaching final

Thiem, who has lost the past two French Open finals to Nadal, has 24 hours less than Djokovic to prepare for his third Grand Slam final.

Djokovic played his semi-final against Roger Federer on Thursday night, with Thiem beating Zverev on Friday night.

The Australian Open is the only Grand Slam where both semi-finals are not played on the same day.

“There are disadvantages but also advantages,” Thiem said.

“I think it’s also a little bit of a challenge to have all the time one day off and all of a sudden two. Of course, I have less time to regenerate.

“But with all the adrenaline and everything, it’s going to be fine.”

Both of Thiem’s previous Grand Slam finals were at the French Open

Djokovic has won six of their previous 10 meetings, although Thiem has beaten him in each of their past two Grand Slam matches – at the French Open in 2017 and 2019.

Thiem also won when they last met on a hard court, a thrilling three-set win at the ATP Finals in November, which was widely recognised as one of 2019’s finest matches on the men’s tour.

“Novak is the favourite and coming in fresh is a big bonus,” Cash said.

“I think he will get through but it won’t be as easy as people think it will be.”

‘Djokovic wants to improve every day’

After needing four sets to beat Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff in a tricky opening match, Djokovic has not dropped another set on his way to the final.

A nervous start against old foe Roger Federer briefly threatened him in their semi-final, before Djokovic reasserted himself to ease through in three sets as the Swiss struggled with a groin injury.

Djokovic has dropped serve only three times since his first-round match and has won 82% of his first-serve points in the tournament.

“He is serving better and his second serve is like 180/190kph – he wasn’t serving like that before,” Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic told BBC Radio 5 live.

“I didn’t tell him to serve 190kph second serve but I have made little changes with the ball toss.

“Now he is confident and believes he can serve harder.”

Ivanisevic, who won Wimbledon in 2001, linked up with the Serb last year on a part-time basis and works alongside his full-time coach Marian Vajda.

“It is tough to teach the guy who has been the best tennis player in the world over the past nine years but he still wants to improve every day,” added Croat Ivanisevic.

“It is great as a coach to have a player like that who wants to listen, to learn and improve every single day.”

Can Djokovic catch Federer?

Djokovic’s victory over 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer in last year’s epic Wimbledon final took him closer to the Swiss’ tally than he has ever been.

Knocking Federer out of this tournament – plus Nadal’s defeat by Thiem – has given Djokovic the chance of further reducing that gap.

Almost six years younger than Federer, Djokovic could add plenty more, barring a loss of form or fitness.

His pursuit of Federer and Nadal is made more remarkable by the fact he won his first major in 2008 – when Federer had claimed 13 and Nadal five – and only added a second three years later.

Djokovic will also return to the top of the world rankings, replacing Nadal, if he beats Thiem.

‘I have to risk a lot’ – what they say about each other

Djokovic on Thiem: “He is definitely one of the best players in the world. He deserves to be where he is.

“It seems like he’s improved his game a lot on hard courts, because his game is more suitable to the slower surfaces. The clay of course being his favourite surface.

“But winning Indian Wells last year, beating Roger in the final, that probably gave him a lot of confidence that he can win big tournaments on other surfaces, as well.

“It’s just a matter of one match here and there that can potentially give him a Grand Slam title, that he can actually get in the mix of top three in the world.

“He definitely has the game. He has the experience now. He has the strength. He has all the means to really be there.”

Thiem on Djokovic: “For sure he’s the favourite. I mean, he won seven titles here, never lost a final, going for his eighth one.

“It’s his comfort zone here. He always plays his best tennis in Australia.

“I think I have to keep a good balance. Of course, I have to risk a lot. I have to go for many shots. At the same time, of course, not too much.

“That’s a very thin line. In the last match against him, hit that line perfectly in London.

“Of course, I am going to take a look at that match, how I played, and try to repeat it. I mean, I’m feeling good on the court. I’m playing great tennis. So try to be at my absolutely best.”

Article courtesy of BBC Sport
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