Rafael Nadal felt his latest success at the Mexican Open was an important moment in his season after he made an impressive return to action.

Following a quarter-final exit to Dominic Thiem at the Australian Open that saw him lose the world number one ranking, the Spaniard earned his third Acapulco title without dropping a set.

Nadal saw off Taylor Fritz 6-3 6-2 in the final of the ATP 500 event for his 85th Tour-level title and first of 2020, taking momentum from his enjoyable spell in Mexico.

"After not competing since Australia, it's an important week for me and an important moment," said the 33-year-old.

"I couldn't be happier. I played a great event from the beginning to the end. I played solid, with the right intensity, the right passion and my forehand worked well.

"This title doesn't mean that I will have a great season. It means another good start. It gives me confidence and allows me to be in a privileged position in the ATP Race [To London]. 

"I am always happy after playing here. Now imagine how I am after getting the title!"

Nadal's success came as rival Novak Djokovic also won this week, claiming a 6-3 6-4 victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final of the Dubai Tennis Championship.

Djokovic has an 18-0 record this season having won the ATP Cup with Serbia and followed that up with the Australian Open and his fifth crown in Dubai.

He joked about going the whole of 2020 unbeaten in his on-court interview and laughed it off again in a later discussion with reporters while explaining his determination to continue the hot streak.

"Of course, I'm trying to embrace the moment and appreciate where I am," Djokovic said.

"This has been one of the best starts of all seasons I had in my career. It has started in the most perfect way possible.

"I am aware, most of the matches that I'm going to play, the players will not have much to lose. They will go out and try to play their best and stop the streak.

"At the same time, the more I win, the more confident and comfortable I feel. I'm just grateful that I'm playing well, feeling well. I've won many matches now in a row. I'll try to keep that run going."

Nadal and Djokovic are both scheduled to return to action in Indian Wells for the first Masters 1000 event of the season from March 12.

Novak Djokovic won his fifth Dubai Tennis Championship after extending his perfect start to 2020 with an impressive win in the final against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The world number one extended his record this year to 18-0 as he triumphed 6-3 6-4 in one hour and 18 minutes on Saturday.

Djokovic added the ATP 500 title to his victory at the Australian Open, which had followed his role inspiring Serbia to glory at the inaugural ATP Cup.

After saving three match points against Gael Monfils in the semis, the Serbian relished his 79th Tour title as Tsitsipas lost in the final for the second straight year, having been beaten by Roger Federer last season.

Djokovic was playing in Dubai for the first time since 2016 and had not won the event since his fourth success seven years ago. 

Tsitsipas came into the match in form having built on his Open 13 Marseille triumph with a strong run to the final and he forced the first break point in the fifth game, though he could not convert.

A wide backhand from the Greek as he served at 3-4 gave Djokovic his first opportunity and the 17-time major champion seized it with a brilliant sliding backhand pass, before claiming the set with backhand down the line in the next game.

Top seed Djokovic built a 0-30 lead in the opening game of the second set only for Tsitsipas to halt his momentum with what looked like a key hold.

The players exchanged breaks when Djokovic moved 3-2 up only for his opponent to strike straight back, the Serbian sending a forehand long moments after the Greek had come out on top in a 25-shot rally.

But the more experienced player delivered when it mattered most, forcing two chances at 4-4 and taking the first when a Tsitsipas backhand found the net.

Djokovic had few problems serving it out, quickly earning three match points and needing just one as a backhand winner led to him embracing Tsitsipas before letting out a passionate celebration on court as his fantastic form continued.

Novak Djokovic sensationally maintained his perfect record against Gael Monfils after surviving three match points in a second-set tie-break to reach the Dubai Tennis Championships final.

World number one Djokovic was 16-0 across all matches in 2020 and in his career against Monfils heading into Friday's meeting.

But the 17-time grand slam winner looked set to see his bid for a fifth Dubai championship end prematurely as Monfils led by a set and a break prior to a dramatic conclusion to the second.

Monfils had collected titles in Montpellier and Rotterdam across his own recent winning streak, yet his Djokovic hoodoo somehow continued.

"It was truly an escape," Djokovic said. "He [Monfils] was clearly a better player for two sets. I was fortunate to work my way back in the second set."

The Frenchman was on top early on and broke in just the third game of the opener, later extending his lead courtesy of the latest in a series of tame Djokovic drop shots.

Djokovic was then spectacularly broken to love in the second, only for Monfils' consistency to wane with the finish line in sight.

The top seed capitalised on the second of his first three break points and set about applying intense pressure to the Monfils serve, but two mammoth holds prompted a remarkable tie-break.

Monfils squandered three opportunities for victory as 10 of the first 11 points went against the serve, Djokovic eventually seizing his fourth set point of the breaker and ninth of the set with a double fault.

Showing visible signs of fatigue, Monfils was broken to love early in the decider and dropped serve again before calling for the trainer, with brief treatment to his left leg unable to arrest the slump as Djokovic clinched a 2-6 7-6 (10-8) 6-1 victory.

Djokovic will next go up against Stefanos Tsitsipas, who cruised through to the Dubai decider for a second year running.

The in-form Greek won the Open 13 Marseille title last week and made it eight straight victories with a comprehensive 6-2 6-3 result against Dan Evans.

Tsitsipas, who lost to Roger Federer in the 2019 final, now believes he can move up another level against Djokovic.

"I'm really impressed by the quality of my game today," he said of the Evans win. "I really hope to bring the same and possibly even better in the next round."

Kim Clijsters will play at Indian Wells after it was confirmed the former world number one has been given a wild card.

The four-time grand slam champion is on the comeback trail after reversing her 2012 retirement last year.

Clijsters, 36, earlier this month was beaten in straight sets by Garbine Muguruza at the Dubai Tennis Championships on her return to the court.

The Belgian is a two-time Indian Wells champion and is also set to play at Monterrey before heading to California.

It was also announced by tournament organisers on Thursday that both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have been given wild cards to play doubles at Indian Wells.

World number one Djokovic is set to team up with Viktor Troicki after they were part of Serbia's ATP Cup-winning squad at the start of the year.

Nadal, second behind Djokovic in the singles rankings, will play with compatriot Marc Lopez, with whom he won gold at the 2016 Olympic Games.

Novak Djokovic made light work of Karen Khachanov as he cruised into the semi-finals of the Dubai Tennis Championship with a 6-2 6-2 victory on Thursday.

World number one Djokovic only needed a cumulative two hours to see off Malek Jaziri and Philipp Kohlschreiber in his opening matches in the United Arab Emirates and seventh seed Khachanov was unable to provide much more resistance.

The 17-time grand slam champion racked up his 16th win of 2020 in one hour, six minutes to move two matches away from a fifth title in Dubai and ensure he will remain at the top of the rankings come Monday.

After saving a set point, Khachanov became the first player to engineer a break point against Djokovic in the tournament and it was converted when the top seed went long with a forehand.

Djokovic wrapped up the first set when Khachanov buried a backhand into the net and he went a break up in the second after a fine lob.

The world number 17 was unable to return a fierce forehand into the corner when facing match point and consequently exited the competition.

Asked in an on-court interview if he is playing some of the best tennis of his career, Djokovic said: "That's too big of a statement, but I'm definitely feeling well and playing well.

"Tough match for Karen, I think he can do much better than he did. It wasn't his day, but on my side I think I played a very solid match."

Stefanos Tsitsipas came from a set down to defeat Jan-Lennard Struff 4-6 6-4 6-4 and advance to the semi-finals.

The second seed, who won his first title of the year in Marseille last weekend, came from 40-0 down at 4-4 in the decider to break before closing out the victory on serve.

Tsitsipas will face Daniel Evans next after the world number 37 overcame Andrey Rublev 6-2 7-6 (11-9) to reach his first semi-final of the season and fourth of his career.

Novak Djokovic talked up the quality of the "powerful" Karen Khachanov after he and the Russian booked a quarter-final meeting at the Dubai Tennis Championship. 

After dominating his first-round encounter against Malek Jaziri in one hour, Djokovic won a similarly straightforward contest with Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3 6-1 in just 59 minutes on Wednesday.

In the build-up, Djokovic had pointed to his loss against Kohlschreiber at Indian Wells last year on the previous occasion they had met on a hard court as evidence he was facing a big test.

But the Serbian triumphed without facing a break point, hitting 23 winners and just 10 unforced errors in improving his 2020 record to 15-0.

Khachanov, who has won one of his three meetings with Djokovic, moved through after seeing off Dennis Novak 6-3 6-4.

"I've had some interesting battles with him," Djokovic said of Khachanov. "He is a great guy, a very powerful player. 

"He is one of the guys who is a pretender to be top five, top 10. He is very dedicated, so hopefully I'll be as sharp as I have been in the past two matches and start well."

Djokovic felt he had barely put a foot wrong against Kohlschreiber, who at 36-years-old is now ranked at number 80.

"It was a great performance," said the Australian Open champion. "I enjoyed the way I played, coming out with the right focus and tactics. 

"Knowing Philipp beat me 12 months ago in Indian Wells, I needed to approach this match very seriously regardless of his ranking."

Second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas joined Djokovic in the quarter-finals at the ATP 500 event, beating Alexander Bublik – a player he also got the better of en route to Open 13 Marseille glory last week - 7-6 (7-1) 6-4.

Tsitsipas will now play Jan-Lennard Struff, who defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Andrey Rublev saw off Filip Krajinovic 7-6 (7-3) 6-0 to book a clash with Dan Evans, who was on the brink of elimination but saved three match points in a thriller against Pierre-Hugues Herbert, eventually winning 7-5 3-6 7-6 (9-7).

Richard Gasquet eliminated fellow Frenchman and eighth seed Benoit Paire 6-4 6-4, while in-form Gael Monfils was a comfortable 6-1 6-2 winner over Yasutaka Uchiyama.

Novak Djokovic paid tribute to "inspirational" Maria Sharapova after the five-time grand slam champion retired from tennis on Wednesday.

Sharapova has struggled with injuries in recent years, while she also served a 15-month ban after testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

The Russian, who was a major winner aged 17 at Wimbledon in 2004, wrote in Vogue and Vanity Fair: "I'm new to this, so please forgive me. Tennis — I'm saying goodbye."

And ATP Tour great Djokovic, speaking on court after his straight-sets defeat of Philipp Kohlschreiber at the Dubai Tennis Championships, prompted a round of applause in honour of Sharapova after learning of her retirement.

"I just heard the news right now, and I would like everyone to give her a big round of applause for everything she has done in her career," he said. "She deserves it definitely.

"She is a great fighter, as dedicated as someone can really be in our sport.

"The willpower and the willingness to overcome all the obstacles that she had - especially in the last five or six years with the injuries and surgeries, trying to come back to the court and play on her desired level - it's truly inspirational to see. She has the mind of a champion.

"I'm sorry that it had to end with an injury but, at the same time, she had a fantastic career. She can be proud of herself."

Djokovic's ATP rival Stefanos Tsitsipas - also victorious in Dubai on Wednesday - even suggested other players had been jealous of Sharapova.

"I come from a Russian background, so I kind of understand the way she approached tennis, the attitude and all of that," the Greek said. "I watched her play when I was young.

"I remember her winning the Wimbledon title, I don't know how old she was – 20, 17, unbelievable. She had a really good career, I can tell you.

"I think many people are jealous of the career she had. Obviously she was behind Serena, another great athlete, so I would say after Serena, she's probably the best.

"She had a really good career with great victories, great achievements in tennis. I think she added a lot to our sport."

Novak Djokovic is wary of falling victim to an upset as he prepares to face Philipp Kohlschreiber at the Dubai Tennis Championships on Wednesday.

The world number one will meet Kohlschreiber in the last 16 after he eased to a 6-1 6-2 win over Malek Jaziri on Monday, while the German emerged triumphant from a three-set battle against Mohamed Safwat.

Djokovic fell to a shock 6-4 6-4 defeat to Kohlschreiber in Indian Wells last year on the last occasion the two players met on a hard court.

While he has won three meetings with the 36-year-old since then, twice on clay and in another on grass, Djokovic will be taking no chances.

"I am aware of what he is capable of," Djokovic said. 

"I lost to him in straight sets in Indian Wells last year. He actually likes playing top players on a big stage. 

"He has lots of experience. He's very fit. He keeps on playing even at that age on a high level.

"I certainly will not underestimate him, I will prepare myself."

Djokovic is playing in Dubai for the first time since 2016, when he retired due to an eye injury in a quarter-final meeting with Feliciano Lopez.

He is a four-time champion and also made the final in 2015, when Roger Federer defeated him.

"As I've said in the press conference prior to the tournament, I miss playing here," said Djokovic, who has a 14-0 record in 2020 following his ATP Cup and Australian Open triumphs.

"I really enjoy it. I enjoy night sessions and I'm feeling good on the court. 

"[The Jaziri match] was another testament to the way I feel. I have confidence, I am obviously striking the ball well. Hopefully that can continue in the next match."

Novak Djokovic earned an emphatic win over Malek Jaziri at the Dubai Tennis Championships in his first match since tasting Australian Open success.

The world number one eased to a 6-1 6-2 triumph over Tunisian veteran Jaziri in a contest lasting one hour.

Djokovic and Jaziri had met once before in their careers, with the Serbian defeating him by an identical scoreline at the same tournament back in 2016.

Three weeks on from his dramatic five-set win over Dominic Thiem in the Melbourne final, Djokovic did not have to defend a single break point and converted four of his eight opportunities in a display that saw him hit 22 winners.

He raced into a 5-0 lead in the first set and while Jaziri – ranked 260 in the world – was marginally more competitive in the second, Djokovic sprinted to victory after breaking at 2-2, converting his first match point with his seventh ace.

"It's a great way to start out the tournament," said Djokovic. "I think I've done everything as well as I imagined it could be for the first match. 

"Of course, there's things that always can be improved, things that can be better. But I have to be satisfied with the performance."

Elsewhere in the ATP 500 event on Monday, there were wins for Russian duo Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev.

Khachanov won 7-6 (7-2) 6-1 against Mikhail Kukushkin, while Rublev battled to a 6-4 6-4 triumph over Italian qualifier Lorenzo Musetti.

Richard Gasquet secured a hard-earned 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 victory in his contest with Lloyd Harris, while Philipp Kohlschreiber booked a round-two meeting with Djokovic when he recovered from losing the first set to eliminate wildcard Mohamed Safwat.

Novak Djokovic says winning trophies is not his main motivation as he sets out to have a career-best season in 2020.

Djokovic got the year off to a flying start, defeating Dominic Thiem to retain his Australian Open title and reclaiming the world number one spot from Rafael Nadal in the process.

The 17-time grand slam champion has now outlined his intention to have the best season of his career in 2020, as he aims to go all the way to gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

However, Djokovic insisted it is his love of tennis that inspires him, rather than the pursuit of trophies.

"For me, while everyone talks about trophies, that creates a lot of tension," Djokovic said at a news conference in Belgrade.

"I have my goals of course, trophies can make me proud and happy in the moment, but they can't fulfil me in life.

"My main inspiration is the joy I feel while I am holding a racquet. If that wasn't the case, I wouldn't be here. If I don't nurture that initial love then I can't be fulfilled. 

"I am motivated and inspired to have my best season this year. It is an Olympic year, which means that the schedule will be busy, not just for me, but for all the top players.

"There will be little room for rest after Wimbledon. I had the honour of winning a bronze medal in 2008 and somehow feel that maybe the time has come for another medal, I hope. I will do everything in my power to reach the peak at the Olympics."

Despite his success, Djokovic has never been able to capture the adoration of tennis crowds in the same way that Rodger Federer and Nadal have, yet the 32-year-old does not believe he is disliked.

"A lot has been written about how I am not loved. I don't like to talk about myself, but my personal impression is that I have a lot of support and sympathy for me," he said.

"When I play Federer or Nadal, the crowd supports them but that doesn't mean I am hated and that I should turn the whole of the Serbian public against the world.

"Even if people don't love me everywhere, why would I want to add fuel to the fire? I don't want to put too much attention on it, I don't want to deal with or think about negative emotions, hatred or anger. Sometimes I get distracted, I have outbursts.

"I admit that and I am not proud of it but I am a human being that makes mistakes and I try to become better every day.

"If I invest my energy in these stories that I am not loved, that story will keep growing and why would I want that?"

Novak Djokovic has underlined his ambition to beat Roger Federer's record grand slam haul.

An eighth Australian Open title – extending the men's record he already held – arrived on Sunday when Djokovic fended off Dominic Thiem in five sets.

A thrilling match looked to be going Thiem's way when he went 2-1 up in sets; however, experience at the highest level told as Djokovic recovered to triumph again at Melbourne Park.

Fitness permitting, Djokovic has every chance of passing Federer's record of 20 grand slam titles, and of taking his scalp atop the list of men with the most weeks spent at number one in the rankings.

Having already scooped 17 slams, Djokovic will turn 33 two days before the French Open starts, offering the opportunity of an 18th major.

Roland Garros has traditionally been Rafael Nadal's to lose, and the Spaniard would move level with Federer's overall total should be land another title in Paris.

But Djokovic may outlast both his rivals on tour, and there is no question the Serbian wants to climb to the top of the all-time list.

"At this stage of my career, grand slams are the ones I value the most. They are the ones I prioritise," Djokovic said.

"I do have professional goals. Grand slams are one of the main reasons why I am still competing and still playing a full season, trying to obviously get the historic number one. That's the other big goal.

"I put myself in this position, that is really good at the moment. I'm super happy with the way I started the season. It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the year.

"I've had that privilege to win this big tournament eight times. To start off the season with a grand slam win significantly boosts your confidence and your expectations are quite high for the rest of the season.

"But whatever happens, this season is already successful."

Djokovic has used the Australian Open as a platform on which to build one of the great tennis careers.

It was in Melbourne 12 years ago that he landed his first slam, beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and he will almost certainly start as favourite in 12 months' time when he targets a ninth Australian Open.

"Especially in the first part of my career, I was dreaming of winning as many grand slams as possible," Djokovic said.

"When I started winning a couple of grand slams a year, a few years in a row, that's where I felt actually I can maybe challenge Roger and Pete Sampras, all these guys that were winning the most grand slams in their careers in the history of tennis."

Djokovic target of finishing as the player with the most weeks as ATP world number one is eminently achievable, and could be secured this season.

He will begin a 276th week in the top ranking on Monday, with only Sampras (286 weeks) and Federer (310 weeks) ahead of him.

Novak Djokovic felt he was "on the brink of losing" the Australian Open final against Dominic Thiem as he dealt with dehydration.

Djokovic was visited by the trainer during the third set on Sunday before responding to win 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 after almost four hours on Rod Laver Arena.

The Serbian great moved onto 17 grand slam titles, extending his record to eight at the Australian Open while reclaiming the world number one ranking.

But the 32-year-old said he was close to defeat as he struggled with his health during the final.

"Turbulent, I would say," he said, describing his win.

"It started off really well. I broke his serve right away. I felt the experience on my side playing many Australian Open finals, for him it was his first. It was very important for me to break his serve early in the match, which happened.

"After I lost the second set, I started to feel really bad on the court. My energy dropped significantly.

"To be honest, I don't still understand the reason why that has happened because I've been doing the things that I've been doing before all of my matches. I was hydrated well and everything. Apparently the doctor said I wasn't hydrated enough.

"I was on the brink of losing the match. Dominic is a fantastic tennis player that plays with tremendous amount of power in his shots, especially from the forehand side. He uses his slice really well. He disrupted my rhythm in my game at one point. He was a better player. Probably one point and one shot separated us. It could have gone a different way.

"I served and volleyed when I was facing a break point in the fourth and in the fifth. It worked both of the times.

"It could have also been different. Serve and volley is not something I'm accustomed to. I'm not really doing that that often. I kind of recognised that as an important tactic in those circumstances, and I'm really happy it worked."

Leading 2-1 in sets, Thiem squandered a break point early in the fourth set before Djokovic regained his energy.

Djokovic said he was battling at the end of the third set and his struggles had come as a surprise.

"I definitely did not feel good. I didn't know what the next moment brings. I was trying to keep myself alive mentally as well and emotionally because it was disappointing in a way from my side to actually feel this way," he said.

"I was a bit shocked that I did feel that way because everything was fine before the match. For the first two sets, everything was okay.

"But it's something that you have to accept that you're going through, those kinds of circumstances really kind of force me to let things go and to really try to be in the moment and fight my way back."

Dominic Thiem had no regrets as he was left feeling "emptiness" after his thrilling Australian Open final loss to Novak Djokovic.

Thiem fell short of winning a maiden grand slam title, losing 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 after almost four hours on Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.

Playing his third major final, the 26-year-old Austrian had his chances, squandering a break point in the fourth set and opportunities to get back on serve in the fifth.

But Thiem insisted he had no regrets after his loss to Djokovic, who claimed a record-extending eighth Australian Open title.

"I think there's not much to change. Also, in the last two sets, I definitely gave everything I had," he said.

"Novak is part of three guys who are by far the best players ever who played tennis. If you play a grand slam final against him, it's always going to be a match where very small details are decisive.

"What happened, I mean, if I could say anything, I would just say that maybe I could have converted the break point in the fourth set where I could have the lead 2-1. Then I think he had some issues in the second set. He recovered very well.

"He played really good after in set three and four. Of course, there were some small mistakes here and there, but they're happening. At the end was a super close five-setter. I don't really regret anything."

Thiem produced a memorable run in Melbourne, including wins over Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals and semis respectively.

The two-time French Open runner-up was exhausted, but said he would return hungry to win a first grand slam crown.

"I think I've rarely felt physically that tired, especially now after all the tension's gone," Thiem said.

"I played an unbelievable intense match against Rafa, such an intense match against Sascha [Zverev] in the semis. Today again I think almost over four hours. I think that was very demanding.

"Of course, I just feel a lot of emptiness right now. But, yeah, that's it. I know the feeling. I did after the last two in Paris.

"But, also already now I feel little bit of motivation to come back for the next grand slam. Well, if I have a little break, it's going to be bigger."

Dominic Thiem had no regrets as he was left feeling "emptiness" after his thrilling Australian Open final loss to Novak Djokovic.

Thiem fell short of winning a maiden grand slam title, losing 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 after almost four hours on Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.

Playing his third major final, the 26-year-old Austrian had his chances, squandering a break point in the fourth set and opportunities to get back on serve in the fifth.

But Thiem insisted he had no regrets after his loss to Djokovic, who claimed a record-extending eighth Australian Open title.

"I think there's not much to change. Also, in the last two sets, I definitely gave everything I had," he said.

"Novak is part of three guys who are by far the best players ever who played tennis. If you play a grand slam final against him, it's always going to be a match where very small details are decisive.

"What happened, I mean, if I could say anything, I would just say that maybe I could have converted the break point in the fourth set where I could have the lead 2-1. Then I think he had some issues in the second set. He recovered very well.

"He played really good after in set three and four. Of course, there were some small mistakes here and there, but they're happening. At the end was a super close five-setter. I don't really regret anything."

Thiem produced a memorable run in Melbourne, including wins over Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals and semis respectively.

The two-time French Open runner-up was exhausted, but said he would return hungry to win a first grand slam crown.

"I think I've rarely felt physically that tired, especially now after all the tension's gone," Thiem said.

"I played an unbelievable intense match against Rafa, such an intense match against Sascha [Zverev] in the semis. Today again I think almost over four hours. I think that was very demanding.

"Of course, I just feel a lot of emptiness right now. But, yeah, that's it. I know the feeling. I did after the last two in Paris.

"But, also already now I feel little bit of motivation to come back for the next grand slam. Well, if I have a little break, it's going to be bigger."

Novak Djokovic was in charge, and then he was not, He was injured, and then he was not. He was sliding to defeat, yet suddenly he was not.

And now the Serbian is a 17-time grand slam champion, fast closing on Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on the all-time list, after an eighth Australian Open title.

World number one again, into the bargain.

And that familiar beat goes on. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have now swept up the last 13 slams between them. Interlopers, keep trying your best lads.

Many greats of the Open era barely gave a Castlemaine XXXX about the Australian Open until the mid-1980s, the likes of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe repeatedly giving Melbourne a miss.

Yet Djokovic has built his career around repeated triumphs on Rod Laver Arena and is now 8-0 in Australian Open finals, joining Nadal and Federer as the only players to have won a single slam eight or more times.

Nadal's 12 Roland Garros triumphs may never be surpassed, Federer has savoured eight Wimbledon successes, and now Djokovic belongs to the eight-and-up club.

In previous years Djokovic has used this fortnight as a springboard to a new season, but he arrived at Melbourne Park already on a high, fresh from helping Serbia to glory in Sydney in the inaugural ATP Cup, fresh from beating Nadal so soon into a new season. Fresh to take on the world.

Yet for a long stretch of this five-set final against Dominic Thiem, Djokovic looked anything but fresh.

After trading breaks, Djokovic was gifted the first set when Thiem flunked a backhand and then double-faulted.

Usually a mighty front-runner, Djokovic's game began to splutter. Two double faults in game three of the second set saw him hand over the advantage to Thiem, who was ahead despite his often mighty backhand operating temperamentally.

It was that single-handed shot that was threatening to undo Thiem's otherwise fine work as he forged to level the match, and a wild example gave back the break, with Djokovic looking sharper after a change of racket.

But the 32-year-old from Belgrade can blow up too, and when he dropped serve for a second time in the set, after being twice penalised for time violations before slamming a forehand over the baseline, Djokovic was rattled.

He approached chair umpire Damien Dumusois, tapped him on the shoe and snapped: "Great job man, especially in the second one. You made yourself famous, well done."

The inelegant show of dissent was followed by Thiem wrapping up the set then swiftly tearing to a 4-0 lead in the third.

Thiem's backhand was back, while Djokovic appeared physically sapped. Limping, at times almost unsteady on his feet; anyone else and you might have written him off.

But Djokovic has shown a limp and followed it with a sprint before.

And although Mr Dumusois had not heard the end of Djokovic's complaints - the umpire's failure to immediately over-rule a call of 'out' led to another snippy rebuke - soon the match began to turn around.

Thiem made sure of set three, but just as a first grand slam title came into the Austrian's sights, it was clinically wrenched away.

A cheap concession of serve in the eighth game of the fourth set allowed Djokovic to level. Thiem was a rabbit in the headlights, Djokovic on full beam.

Breaking in the third game of the decider put Djokovic firmly in control, and that was swiftly followed by the saving of two break points, which effectively killed Thiem.

So what then of Thiem?

He said all the right things afterwards, praising Djokovic and speaking of the bigger picture in light of Australia's bushfire crisis.

But after two French Open final defeats to Rafael Nadal, another slam setback will feel more painful by the day, particularly as he was in the ascent this time.

Ask Andy Murray, who lost four slam finals before making his breakthrough at the 2012 US Open, what these days feel like below the surface.

To take a Murrayism, Thiem is getting closer.

Thiem is certainly due a break. He fell short in the ATP Finals title match last November, losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas, and split from girlfriend Kristina Mladenovic at around the same time.

In an eye-catching move, he hired his compatriot Thomas Muster to join his coaching team for 2020, but they have already parted company.

When he beat Djokovic during the ATP Finals, Thiem said it took "something outstanding, something unusual" to achieve that feat.

That was a best-of-three contest though. Over five sets, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer remain the untouchable trio when it comes to slam finals.

A Djokovic fan, wearing a red and white T-shirt bearing the message "Serbia against the world", roared on his man as he reached the brink of this latest triumph.

Federer's haul of 20 slams is within striking range, with Djokovic three short of the Swiss and two behind Nadal.

And here's a thing: the men's game has still yet to see a grand slam singles winner born in the 1990s.

Thiem would have become the first. He held this match in his hands, and he dropped it.

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