Richard Gasquet got his quest for a fifth Open Sud de France title off to a strong start as he defeated compatriot Gilles Simon 6-4 6-4 in Montpellier, but three seeds struggled.

Gasquet – three times a champion in Montpellier and once in Lyon – needed just 87 minutes to overcome Simon in his first-round match on Wednesday and set up a last-16 tie against Feliciano Lopez, who beat eighth seed Ugo Humbert.

The other first-round match saw Adrian Mannarino defeat Alexei Popyrin and progress to face top seed Gael Monfils.

Two last-16 matches also took place, with world number 23 Grigor Dimitrov, who entered as a wildcard and was seeded fourth, going down 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 7-5 to Gregoire Barrere.

Third seed Denis Shapovalov also suffered a quick exit as he lost to Vasek Pospisil 6-2 6-3.

Meanwhile, at the Pune Open, second seed Ricardas Berankis saved two set points as he rallied to defeat Cedrik-Marcel Stebe 7-6 (7-2) 6-1.

World number 73 Berankis will go up against Yuichi Sugita, who progressed without playing after Viktor Troicki withdrew due to fever, in the quarter-finals. Jiri Vesely and Ilya Ivashka also progressed.

Roger Federer said only Rafael Nadal could make Sunday's exhibition "truly special" for those in attendance in Cape Town.

Swiss great Federer will face off against his most famous rival in the sixth edition of the Match for Africa series, organised by the 20-time grand slam winner's foundation.

Federer will team up with Microsoft owner Bill Gates to face Nadal and Daily Show host Trevor Noah, who was born in South Africa, for a doubles encounter before the two tennis greats meet in a singles match.

When planning to host the event in Cape Town, Federer only had one opponent in mind and said he had been trying to enlist Nadal's help for some time.

"I have been thinking about this idea for a few years now and I always ask myself the question: where, with whom, how big, how small should it be?" Federer told a news conference.

"The initial idea was let's just get one done so at least I did play here and the people got to see me, my family that I still have here got to see me.

"As the idea grew and it ended up let's try to go big and we went bigger and bigger. For me at one point when I realised something very special could happen, for me it was only Rafa who could make this event truly special for the people here. 

"I have the connection to Rafa and if somebody could maybe bring him down to South Africa it is me. I asked him and he said yes right away.

"We have been fighting over a date for the last two years so I finally got one out of him. He wanted to do it earlier. We were both ready, but there was just too much going on with our schedules.

"I couldn't be more excited to see Rafa arriving tomorrow morning."

US Open champion Bianca Andreescu will make a late decision on whether to make her injury comeback when Canada face Switzerland in the Fed Cup qualifiers.

Andreescu has not played since injuring her knee in her match against Karolina Pliskova at the WTA Finals at the end of October.

She pulled out of the Auckland Classic and then the Australian Open as her start to 2020 was delayed by her recovery, having also struggled with a host of other injury issues last year.

Andreescu is in Biel with her Canada team-mates for the Switzerland tie, which will be played over February 7 and 8.

World number five Belinda Bencic, who Andreescu beat in the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows, is one of her possible opponents this week.

"She has been training and she is improving every day – we are taking it day by day," said Canada captain Heidi El Tabakh.

"We know that, for this tie, time is against her, but she's been making a lot of improvements.

"She still has a couple of days left. As of right now, we haven't made any decisions yet about the team, but we will when the time comes."

Andreescu told Tennis Canada: "I think there's still a chance. We haven't made any decisions yet but I'm hoping I can play."

Switzerland are preparing as if Andreescu will play in the tie, which is one of eight contests which will decide the teams to join Australia, France, Czech Republic and Hungary for the inaugural Fed Cup Finals in Budapest in April.

"I have to assume Bianca Andreescu is going to walk out there and compete because why else would she be here?" said Switzerland captain Heinz Guenthardt.

"Nobody knows how well she'll compete - probably even she doesn't know that.

"It's a different thing to practice and then walk out there and play a Fed Cup tie. 

"It doesn't sound like a very thought out answer, but in the case of this week particularly we're just going to try to focus on ourselves.

"We have a good group. Belinda is obviously our number one and then we have four players who can on their given day represent Switzerland."

The qualifying round contains some impressive line-ups, with Serena Williams, Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and teen star Coco Gauff among the United States team playing Latvia, while Naomi Osaka leads Japan against Spain.

Defending champion Juan Ignacio Londero and Albert Ramos-Vinolas advanced to the Cordoba Open round of 16 on Tuesday.

Cordoba was the scene of Londero's breakthrough ATP Tour title last year, the Argentinian capping a fairytale week by overcoming countryman Guido Pella in three sets.

Back on the red clay following a first-round loss at the Australian Open in January, eighth seed Londero defeated Italy's Marco Cecchinato 6-2 7-5.

Londero – playing the night session – did not face a break point and won 70 per cent of his first serves, much to the delight of the home crowd at the ATP 250 tournament.

Next up for Londero is fellow Argentine player Pedro Cachin, who crushed Hugo Dellien 6-1 6-1 in just 58 minutes.

Spanish fifth seed Ramos-Vinolas beat local qualifier Facundo Bagnis 6-4 7-6 (7-3), despite wasting a match point at 6-5 in the second set.

It will be an all-Spanish affair in the last 16 after Pablo Andujar accounted for Filip Horansky 6-2 6-2.

Elsewhere, Jaume Munar (6-4 6-3 against Leonardo Mayer), Andrej Martin (7-6 [7-5] 6-4 over Federico Coria), Pedro Martinez (4-6 6-3 6-4 against Federico Gaio) and Corentin Moutet (6-4 6-3 over Thiago Monteiro) also progressed to the next round.

Felix Auger-Aliassime saw off the test of unseeded Bosnian qualifier Damir Dzumhur 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 6-2 to reach the last 16 of the Open Sud de France, but it took him longer than expected.

Despite breaking Dzumhur's serve at the first opportunity, Auger-Aliassime – who failed to get past the first round of the Australian Open – conspired to lose the first set, as his counterpart broke back straight away and eventually closed out the set in the tie-break.

That seemed to be the shot in the arm Auger-Aliassime needed, as the Canadian world number 21 cruised through the second and third sets – enjoying three breaks of service in the latter, though it still took him two hours, 31 minutes to clinch Tuesday's win.

Victory sets up a second-round clash with France's Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who eliminated Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-2 7-5, while seventh seed Filip Krajinovic also went through in straight sets, beating Enzo Couacaud 6-4 6-4.

Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik will face second seed David Goffin next after a gruelling 6-7 (7-2) 6-1 7-6 (7-2) win over Henri Laaksonen.

Mikael Ymer and Emil Ruusuvuori also secured passage to the last 16.

James Duckworth was the highest seed in action at the Pune Open on Tuesday and the Australian – who is the sixth favourite – had little difficulty getting past Peter Gojowczyk 7-6 (7-5) 6-4.

The home contingent had mixed success. Arjun Kadhe lost out 6-2 6-4 to Jiri Vesely, but Prajnesh Gunneswaran ousted Yannick Maden 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5) to progress.

Ilya Ivashka, Nikola Milojevic, Egor Gerasimov and Roberto Marcora all made it through as well, the latter set to face top seed Benoit Paire next.

New Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin can end her career with a double-figure grand-slam haul and will be world number one "by summer".

That is according to renowned coach Rick Macci, who was taken aback by Kenin's skill and mentality when the American sensation had her first lesson with him at the age of five.

Macci, who has also coached the likes of Serena and Venus Williams, Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova and Jennifer Capriati, knew Kenin was destined for greatness as he continued to nurture her talents until she was 12.

So there were no eyebrows raised from the Ohio native when the 21-year-old beat Garbine Muguruza to claim her maiden major title at Melbourne Park last Saturday, and he is in no doubt it will prove the first of many for the world number seven.

Macci told Omnisport: "I'd say by summer she'll be on top of the rankings, it's right around the corner.

"She'll be in the top five or 10 for the next 10 years, she's not going anywhere because when you show up to play, she's always going to be there.

"People don't understand what they are looking at, I can see her winning double figures grand slams, she might get 15 before she's done.

"She's the real deal, this is [Martina] Hingis, [Simona] Halep but with a tremendous mental strength that doesn't blink. She expected to win the final [against Muguruza], her father [and coach, Alex] did and I did."

Macci says there is no chance the Russia-born prodigy will become too embraced in off-court distractions with her new-found name.

He said: "That will never happen, this is a different animal. She is no one-hit wonder, there is so much stability, structure and focus inside this girl.

"She was at the Rick Macci Tennis Academy in Boca Raton [Florida] before they went to Australia getting a massage. I said, 'So what's the game plan?'. She looked at me and said, 'To be number one in the world'.

"It was not in an arrogant way, but in a matter of fact. You can say that, but she has the goods to back it up.

"She's shown you don't have to be six feet tall, you don't need a huge serve or to have tremendous power. If you understand the geometry of the court, you take the ball early and it's a game of inches from one ear to the other.

"This girl, her mental strength is unsurpassed and she's a great role model."

Serena Williams must make changes to her game, strategy and goals if she is to achieve her ambition of breaking the all-time grand slam singles record, says her coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

A shock third-round Australian Open defeat to Wang Qiang ended the 38-year-old's most recent attempt to equal Margaret Court's mark of 24 major singles titles in the open era.

Williams has lost four grand slam finals, two at Wimbledon and another two at the US Open, since her return to the WTA Tour after giving birth to her daughter in 2017.

After the American called her performance "unprofessional" in the loss to Wang in Melbourne, Mouratoglou outlined the state of play, with the French Open her next opportunity in May.

"We have to accept the fact that it is not working," Mouratoglou said to BBC Sport.

"Maybe come back with a different angle, a different strategy and different goals so she can make it.

"She does feel positive, she feels negative too because it is a failure when she doesn't win a grand slam. We didn't expect at all to be losing so early, or to be losing at all.

"We have to face reality, but she is positive that she can make it otherwise she probably wouldn't be on a tennis court anymore.

"She's not that far away, but we have to change a few things. Her level is good enough, but we have to understand what is going on. 

"There is a big difference between reaching a final and winning one."

Williams went into the Australian Open as many people's favourite to win the tournament but, despite another setback, Mouratoglou insisted her fire was still there, though was reluctant to put a timescale on how long she will keep pursuing the record.

He added: "It's difficult to know how many chances she will have. I don't know how long she is going to be able to play but being able to reach four grand slam finals says a lot about her level.

"She had everything to retire, 23 grand slam titles. But she decided to make all the efforts, the physical efforts, the mental efforts, to come back to the game, with the goal to score more grand slams and beat the all-time record."

Williams, who won her first WTA title for three years in Auckland last month, is in the United States' Fed Cup team to face Latvia this week as part of a star-studded line-up that also contains Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and teenage sensation Coco Gauff.

Fernando Verdasco fell to a shock first-round loss at the Cordoba Open, while fellow seed Pablo Cuevas advanced on Monday.

Verdasco, the seventh seed at the ATP 250 event played on clay, was beaten by qualifier Carlos Taberner 4-6 6-1 6-4 in Argentina.

In a clash between two Spaniards, Taberner – at 198 ranked 149 places below Verdasco – won three of the final four games.

Verdasco had made the quarter-finals in Doha and third round at the Australian Open to begin 2020, but the 36-year-old bowed out in his opener.

Sixth seed Cuevas had no such problems, beating local hope Federico Delbonis 7-5 6-2.

Earlier, Italian Gianluca Mager beat qualifier Juan Pablo Ficovich 6-2 3-6 6-2 and Attila Balazs overcame Lorenzo Sonego 6-2 7-6 (7-3).

Vasek Pospisil booked another meeting with fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov after defeating Aljaz Bedene at the Open Sud de France.

Having lost to Shapovalov at the Auckland Classic last month, Pospisil will face him again following a 6-3 6-4 win over Bedene in the first round of the ATP 250 event on Monday.

Shapovalov, seeded third, has a bye in the first round along with Gael Monfils, David Goffin and Grigor Dimitrov.

Fifth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime does not play his opener until Tuesday, meaning the highest ranked player in action was Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta, but the Spaniard fell to a shock 3-6 6-4 6-3 defeat against Norbert Gombos.

In the day's other game, home favourite Gregoire Barrere sealed a round-two meeting with Dimitrov after a 6-2 7-6 (8-6) triumph over Joao Sousa.

At the Pune Open, fifth seed Yuichi Sugita cruised past Thomas Fabbiano 6-3 6-0, but there were defeats for home hopes Sumit Nagal and Ramkumar Ramanathan respectively in their matches against Viktor Troicki and Salvatore Caruso.

Ivo Karlovic is also out after losing in straight sets to Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, who will next face second seed Ricardas Berankis.

Sofia Kenin sent shock waves around Melbourne by winning the Australian Open 16 years after esteemed coach Rick Macci was jolted by the same "Sonic Boom" in Florida.

Kenin bolted to her maiden grand slam with a 4-6 6-2 6-2 victory over Garbine Muguruza on Saturday at the age of 21.

The American prodigy took out world number one and home favourite Ash Barty in the semi-final before downing Muguruza in her first major final on Rod Laver Arena.

Not many tipped Kenin to win the first slam of the year, but the Russia-born 14th seed's triumph came as no surprise to Macci ​– who was staggered by her ability and attitude when he gave a first coaching lesson at his academy in Boca Raton.

The United States Professional Tennis Association Hall of Famer told Omnisport: "She came to me at five years old and the very first lesson I gave her, her ability to focus and just the way she was locked in already mentally was really startling.

"For most players that's the last piece of the puzzle, so that was the first the first thing that jumped out at me.

"Even though the racket was almost as big as her, I had her take the ball right off the bounce and she did it so easily, it was innate timing. You can teach people timing, but it can be hard to take in.

"So right after that I'm going 'what is this?' Mentally, there is a focus that I have never seen in a child this young and her hand-eye coordination just to take the ball right off the bounce. I said 'this girl is the scariest little creature I've ever seen'.

"I knew it straight away, then as time went on I said she'd be top 10 in the world by age 20 and win many grand slams, I was a year off but I think it was the age-eligibility rule that held her back a little bit.

"When she started competing, even at aged seven, her thirst for competition was just so uncanny. She was so competitive and she would say 'I never lost, I just ran out of time'.

"Every time she lost, and I had her play boys a lot even though she was a little pip-squeak, the next day or that afternoon she'd want to play them again.

"It was a like a mosquito that wouldn't leave me alone but you want that, you want people to feel pain and want to come back for more.

"To already have that inside of you when are all about the competition, that is how you handle pressure better and that has been in there since five years old, so this doesn't surprise me at all."

Kenin's father, Alex, took his daughter to the Rick Macci Tennis Academy knowing Macci played a huge part in nurturing the talents of the likes of Serena and Venus Williams, Andy Roddick, Jennifer Capriati and Maria Sharapova.

Macci was so struck by the newest major winner's natural talent he gave her a nickname that is very apt given the rapid progress she has made.

"At a young age people were calling her Sofia, Sonia. Just the way she played I combined the two and called her Sonic and then when she picked it up off the bounce it would be boom, so her nickname has always been Sonic Boom," the Ohio native added.

"Here we are a lot of these things the media people can see now on the big stage, this is what was unfolding aged five, six, seven, eight years old."

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.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.