In 26th appearance, Novak Djokovic has a new Grand Slam final opponent

In his 26th Grand Slam final outing, Novak Djokovic will face Dominic Thiem in a major showpiece for the first time, seeking his 17th title overall.

Novak Djokovic has a 7-0 record in Australian Open finals and he goes for an eighth crown on Sunday having seen off Roger Federer in straight sets.

The Serbian will appear in his 26th Grand Slam final bidding to win his 17th major title, with the eight finals he has reached at Melbourne Park already a record.

For the first time in a Slam showpiece, his opponent will be Dominic Thiem.

The two players have met three times in majors before, all on the clay at Roland Garros, and 10 times overall on the ATP Tour.

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Djokovic has the advantage in the head-to-head record, but only just, with 6 wins to the Austrian’s 4.

In Grand Slams, though, Thiem has won two of their three meetings.

Djokovic came out on top in the French Open semifinal of 2016 in straight sets, but Thiem got his revenge with a comfortable win in the quarterfinals the year after.

They then met in last year’s semifinal in Paris, Thiem edging an epic battle 6-2 3-6 7-5 5-7 7-5. It was a contest that lasted two days after three weather interruptions, with an unhappy Djokovic comparing the high winds to “hurricane conditions”.

And Thiem has also won the most recent clash between the two, coming from behind to win 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 7-6 (7-5) in the ATP Finals in November.

An aggressive approach that saw him hit 51 winners and as many unforced errors paid off as Djokovic was stunned in a match in London which Thiem said he would never forget. He has now won four of the last five encounters, a remarkable feat against a player of Djokovic’s quality.

The world number five might be facing Djokovic in a Grand Slam final for the first time but this will be his third appearance, having lost the last two French Open showpieces against Rafael Nadal.

He partly avenged those defeats to Nadal with an impressive quarterfinal win over the Spaniard in four sets at this tournament, before recovering from an early deficit to get the better of Alexander Zverev in the semis with a similar 3-1 scoreline.

Five tie-breaks went his way across the two contests, a streak that may not be sustainable over the longer term but must continue for one more match if the 26-year-old is to make history against Novak Djokovic.

It is the superior Slam experience, as well as a supreme record in Australia and on hard courts generally, that means Djokovic goes in as favorite despite his recent struggles in matches against Thiem.

Aside from falling behind in the first set, Djokovic’s victory in his 50th career meeting with Federer rarely looked in doubt.

As well as being comfortably second best to the Serbian on this surface at this stage of his career, Federer was also struggling with a groin injury and accepted afterwards he went into the clash with around a 3% chance to win.

After almost going a set down, Djokovic ended up winning 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 6-3 and has not dropped a set since his first-round victory against Jan-Lennard Struff.

In 25 Slam finals up to now, the 32-year-old’s record is 16-9, with victories in each of his last four showpiece matches, an unbelievable run that extends to eight wins in his last nine.

Success here would move him to 17 Grand Slams overall, just two behind Nadal (19) and within three of the overall record of 20 held by Federer.

Those 25 major finals have come against seven different opponents in Nadal, Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, Kevin Anderson, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin del Potro.

Now his eighth opponent in a major final, Thiem, will attempt to deny him a remarkable eighth Australian Open crown.

A competitive final could be on the cards given Thiem’s past record against Djokovic, not to mention his fine play over the past two weeks, which included a surprisingly dominant round-4 win over Gael Monfils.

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But until proven otherwise, Novak Djokovic is the man to beat on hard courts and the Australian Open is his Grand Slam.

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