MELBOURNE, Australia
“King” Novak Djokovic has won all seven Australian Open finals he has
contested, he is on a 12-match winning streak and will become world number one
if successful in the Melbourne Park decider on Sunday.

Against those overwhelming odds, few are giving Dominic
Thiem much of a chance to wrench the title from his iron grip and clinch a
maiden Grand Slam.

But the Austrian, remarkably, is the one with the recent
edge.

Djokovic is 6-4 in their career head-to-heads, but Thiem has
won four of the last five.

Three of those were on his favoured clay, but he also came
from a set down to beat the Serb on hardcourts at the ATP Finals in November.

Djokovic is the first to admit that the slick 26-year-old
has successfully refined his game over the past 12 months to compete on all
surfaces.

And he acknowledges it is just a matter of time before Thiem
wins a Slam.

“I don’t think he’s really anymore ‘next generation’.
He’s been around for many years. Now already he’s an established top-five,
top-10 player,” said Djokovic.

“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 added. 

Despite the platitudes, Djokovic, 32, is banking on adding
yet another chapter to his storied Melbourne Park career, and heads into the
match with an extra day’s rest after dispatching an injured Roger Federer in
his semi-final on Thursday.

The world number two has been firing ever since arriving in
Australia a month ago, and was unbeaten over six ATP Cup singles matches as he
led Serbia to the inaugural title ahead of the Australian Open.

“Yes, I’m pleased with the way I’ve been feeling and
playing. I thought ATP Cup went really well for me, got a lot of hours spent on
the court, singles and doubles,” said the 16-time Grand Slam winner.

“Obviously got a lot of positive energy from that
competition. I dropped only one set so far up to the finals. Hopefully I’ll be
able to perform as well as I always have in the Australian Open finals.”

– ‘It’s his comfort zone’ –

Thiem, who has beaten four seeds to make the grade,
including Rafael Nadal in the last eight, is no stranger to Grand Slam finals,
making the last two at Roland Garros.

But this is his best effort outside of the French Open.

He lauded Djokovic as the “king of Australia” and
insisted his recent succusses against him counted for little at the Serb’s
favourite tournament.

“It’s true, I won I think more of the last encounters
than he did. But I think it doesn’t count so much. It’s absolutely his comfort
zone here,” he said.

“He always plays his best tennis in Australia since
many, many years. So I’m expecting that as well in the finals. 

“All I can do is my best again, play great tennis
again, and of course take a look at the last matches we had… try to repeat
the good stuff that I did there.”

Despite playing down his chances, Thiem has the weapons to
trouble Djokovic.

He is supremely fit and regarded as one of the fastest
movers on court, with a one-handed backhand that generates heavy spin and a
power-packed forehand.

While the slower clay has always been his preferred surface,
beating Federer in the Indian Wells final last year was a turning point for the
Austrian on hardcourts.

“That victory gave me so much relief and so much
confidence because finally I got my first Masters 1000 title on
hardcourt,” he said. 

“I made this huge step forward. I really developed my
game I think in the right direction.”

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