Novak Djokovic played an epic five-setter in this year’s Australian Open final to lift his 17th Grand Slam trophy. That victory came at Dominic Thiem’s expense, sending the Austrian to 0-3 in major finals. The Serbian was pleased to see the 27-year-old finally break through at a Slam on Sunday evening by winning the US Open.
“Dominic deserves this title probably more than anybody. He’s such a nice guy, and he works extremely hard. He was so close in the past couple of years and finally he has it,” Djokovic said. “It would be interesting to see how his career goes on from here, but it’s a huge relief.”
Thiem echoed those sentiments after his five-set victory against Alexander Zverev, adding that he believes he will play even freer at the biggest tournaments now. Djokovic recalls how he felt after winning his first major at the 2008 Australian Open.
“I remember my first Grand Slam title, obviously getting that first monkey out of your back, in a way, to say it’s a huge relief. After that you start believing in yourself much more and feeling maybe a bit less pressure and expectations from yourself to win Slams,” Djokovic said. “Both of these guys possess a huge tennis quality on all surfaces to win titles and Grand Slams. We have Roland Garros coming in a couple weeks’ time, and Dominic is right behind Rafa, on clay [as] the favourite to go all the way.”
Djokovic watched the first four sets of the US Open final. One of the things he was most impressed by was the respect Thiem and Zverev, who are good friends, showed each other inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“We all know that they are good friends and you could see how much they wanted to win, of course, [the] final of a Slam. They both were fighting for the first Grand Slam title and both of them were bringing a lot of intensity on the court, but never disrespecting each other,” Djokovic said. “That struck me the most, to be honest, the appreciation, respect, and friendship that they showed. I think it’s a great message to all of the tennis players and the sports world in general.”
Overall, the World No. 1 was happy to see both men competing under the spotlight in the final of a Grand Slam.
“I want to congratulate both of these guys. I want to congratulate them, of course, for their achievements. To get to the final for Sascha for the first time and to play for two-and-a-half sets the way he played was really impressive, and he was very close to winning it. Then again, he served for the match in the fifth,” Djokovic said. “For Dominic to lose three finals and start the match not on a very high level but then come back and win in such fashion is very inspiring, and they deserve a lot of credit.”
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Djokovic is the top seed at this week’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, where he is a four-time champion. It is an extra-special week for the Serbian, who on Monday tied Pete Sampras for the second-most weeks (286) as the No. 1 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings.
The 33-year-old admitted that the quick post-US Open turnaround to clay has been “unusual”, but he is thankful to have opportunities to play during these unprecedented times. He believes that the clay favourite is clear.
“Rafa obviously decided to stay on clay and practise. Surely that gives him more advantage, but even if he didn’t practise for that long on clay, he would still be the number one favorite [at] Roland Garros or any other clay tournament because he’s Rafa,” Djokovic said. “Playing on clay, he’s the ultimate challenge.
“But for most of the other guys, of course, it’s going to be [an] adjustment challenge [to see] how quickly can we adapt, how quickly can we adjust to this new surface. Let’s see. I did have four or five days of training, coming here, couple more days of training before my first match. I think it is sufficient. But let’s see on the court.”