No player and tournament have been synonymous with each other quite like Rafael Nadal and Roland Garros. Novak Djokovic winning the Australian Open now seems equally ironclad. The Serb, on Sunday, captured his eighth title in Melbourne and 17th Grand Slam overall following a nearly four-hour, five-set duel with an inspired Dominic Thiem. The 32-year-old is just three Majors shy of Roger Federer in the all-time count. The victory did not come easy; in the 26-year-old Austrian, who had earlier beaten Nadal in the quarter-final, Djokovic had the most formidable of challengers from the sports next generation. When Djokovic plays his two biggest rivals, Nadal and Federer, he gives the impression of a man who knows their games like the back of his hand. No wonder the two have not managed to beat Djokovic at a Major since 2014. But against players from a rung below, Djokovic has increasingly looked shaky. In fact, coming into Sundays final, he had lost four of his last five matches with Thiem, including the last two meetings at Slams. During the contest, there were lapses galore, both physical and mental, as he struggled to apply his customary stranglehold. Yet, such was his resilience that despite the post-match admission of him being a nervous wreck through the tussle, Djokovic rose from the dead the same way he had in the 2019 Wimbledon final against Federer.
Even as the triumph leaves the state of mens tennis unaltered Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have swept the last 13 Majors and currently occupy the top three ranking positions it is clear that the Thiem-led mid-card, which includes Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, is snapping at the heels of the leaders with ever more vigour. Thiem, fourth in the world, appears best-placed to succeed, having held his own against both Nadal and Djokovic, and beaten Federer all three times they met last year. Clay is a surface on which Thiem is a natural and the upcoming season on the red dirt is sure to provide sufficient cues. The churn in the womens section, however, is in an accentuated state with American Sofia Kenin, a counter-puncher blessed with magical hands, becoming the eighth first-time champion from the last 12 Grand Slam events. Once the semi-final line-up was completed, it appeared that the often capricious ladies game had finally settled with three former Major winners in the fray. But space was carved out for yet another new champion, as the tenacious Kenin, 21, felled in succession, Ashleigh Barty, the reigning French Open champion, and Garbiñe Muguruza, a two-time Major winner, to become the youngest Australian Open champion since Maria Sharapova in 2008.