Thiem plots to overthrow the king

Austria's Dominic Thiem could only produce a wry smile at the prospect of playing Novak Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open.

Having lost two French Open finals to the king of clay, Rafael Nadal, he now meets the king of Rod Laver Arena in Djokovic who is unbeaten in seven finals appearances at the Australian Open.

Can Dominic Thiem end his opponent’s Australian Open dominance? Credit:Getty Images

That has been the lot of any young player emerging in an era dominated by Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer, with Thiem 16 grand slams behind Djokovic despite being just six years his junior.

"We are playing in tough times we young players. We always have to beat all these unbelievable legends," Thiem said.

It's a situation that became all too familiar to Britain's Andy Murray, who lost his first four grand slam finals to the big three before breaking through at the age of 25 to win the first of his three grand slam titles at the 2012 US Open when he defeated Djokovic in a five-set epic.

Murray remains the most recent player to win a grand slam aged under 30, having won Wimbledon in 2016 at 29 with the past 13 grand slam titles to thirty-somethings.

Thiem, at 26, believes he is ready, having put behind him some of the distractions to reach a hardcourt final having already showed his class on clay.

"In this one I have the feeling that I have great experience now. I'm feeling that I can really keep up my level for all the two weeks, which was not the case maybe in my first Roland Garros final," Thiem said.

The quietly spoken Austrian is popular on tour, regarded as a gentleman magnanimous enough to suggest to his semi-final opponent Alexander Zverev that he should challenge a call even though it cost him a game.

He is not one to grandstand and his grin appears easily as he continues his rise up the rankings with a win in the final guaranteed to lift him to No.3 in the world.



However, he also carries a determined resolve with Thiem overcoming a mysterious split with countryman Thomas Muster during the tournament when the former Austrian great left the Thiem camp suddenly after the first two rounds.

The reasons remain cloudy although Thiem said there was nothing sinister behind the arrangement being short-lived with his decision to part ways more based in the fact he had no time to dither at this time of his career if something wasn't working.

"It's always difficult, especially for me at the stage where I am, to find something perfect to add to my team. And I just had the feeling that it's not gonna work out together, and that's why we finished. So that's all. I think it's way more relaxed than everybody thinks," Thiem said.

Apparently Muster's style did not work with Thiem, who prefers bite-size instructions and wasn't interested in becoming a replica of the former great. His father, Wolfgang Thiem, said: "The most important thing is that the coach understands what the player needs and not that the coach wants to make a copy of himself."

Thiem also showed his competitive streak when he refused to yield to Nadal in the quarter-final as the Spanish champion stayed in the game.

He also had to complete a short compulsory stint of military service for Austria in late 2014, something he did not enjoy doing while still a professional tennis player and overcome a slump in form that became so desperate his mother Karin pledged to get a tattoo every time her son won a tournament.

It's a decision Thiem can't quite believe and if his form is any indication it's one she may come to regret.

But can he overcome Djokovic on Sunday night?

With powerful ground strokes he has the game to challenge the champion but he will be tested physically, having played two matches that lasted more than 3 hours with four of his matches going longer than Djokovic's longest game.

He also had one fewer day to recover from his semi-final than Djokovic who beat a wounded Federer easily on Friday night.

"I guess I have less time to regenerate," Thiem said. "With all the adrenalin and everything, it's going to be fine."

Thiem also knows he has a strong fitness base behind him and his confidence is high having worked hard over summer on Miami Beach with renowned fitness coach Duglas Cordero who had Thiem completing workouts with a tennis racquet in his hand so he became used to executing tennis shots while fatigued. He also worked on the Gold Coast when he arrived in Australia in December.

Renowned for his powerful forehand and backhand, he hits the ball harder than any other player on the tour. When both feet lift off the ground and he drives his body through the ball, it's an exhausting process that requires steel to maintain. His stance when receiving first serves is broad, his rump pushed back as he positions himself to explode from a standing start.

His game has impressed 2005 Australian Open champion Marat Safin who gives Thiem a real chance of victory.

"It is a battle of generations," Safin said.

"Dominic looks very hungry for it – as does Novak – but for Dominic it is the first one.

"Let's see how he starts but he has a chance for sure. Let's see who is more lucky and more hungry."

Thiem is definitely hungry, his desire clear each time he flares his nostrils to take another breath during his matches but he also appears relaxed, smiling when Neil Diamond was played during an interruption in play in the semi-final.

He joked to John McEnroe when interviewed after the game that his mind had wandered home temporarily, an indication Thiem is at ease with himself.

"I felt like I was on Austria on a ski holiday, as they play that song all the time," Thiem said.

Australian Patrick Rafter believes Thiem needs to play on the edge to give himself a chance against Djokovic, which guarantees some exciting, attacking tennis.

"Thiem needs to red-line it and he knows that," Rafter said.

Zverev saw enough to give Thiem a chance of doing what no one has been able to do, beat Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open.

"I think he has a chance. He's playing the best tennis of his life," Zverev said. "He flattens his shot out much more. Before he was a complete claycourt player. A lot of movement, a lot of running around … Now he has a complete hardcourt game, which he can play on clay."

To win a grand slam title he would need to become just the ninth player in the open era to beat the No.1 and 2 seeds at a grand slam and just the second player to beat both Djokovic and Nadal at the same grand slam, after Wawrinka beat a wounded Nadal in the 2014 final.

The odds are against the blonde tipped Thiem but the crowd will be with him as he attempts to depose the king.

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