As Novak Djokovic conducted yet another in a long string of interviews after earning his record eighth Australian Open championship, runner-up Dominic Thiem was sliding into the front passenger seat of a white tournament courtesy van.
It was past 1:30 a.m. local time, and Djokovic was toting his large silver winner's cup everywhere while explaining how he edged Thiem 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 Sunday night for a 17th major title. Thiem, meanwhile, had just emerged from the locker room, his media obligations long finished.
Thiem was toting a much simpler runner-up tray in his left hand. Just another thing to lug home, along with his rackets, a mesh bag filled with shoes and plastic sleeve stuffed with sweaty clothes.
It is an all-too-familiar scene nowadays when a Grand Slam tournament wraps up: a member of the Big Three holding court and holding the biggest trophy; a younger man leaving the scene to plenty of praise but not the triumph he wanted. And, increasingly, the guy with the hardware that's the envy of all is Djokovic, more often than it is either of his rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Which, of course, is the point right now. Roger and Rafa need to watch out, because the guy whose nickname is Nole is gaining on them. Djokovic has won five of the past seven major tournaments, a run that dates to Wimbledon in 2018.
So as the tour departs from Australia, Federer leads the men's list with 20 Slam trophies, one ahead of Nadal and, rather suddenly, just three more than Djokovic.
“Obviously, at this stage of my career, Grand Slams are the ones I value the most. They are the ones I prioritize,” said Djokovic, who defeated Federer in the final at Wimbledon last year and the semifinals at the Australian Open this week. “Before the season starts, I try to set my form, shape, for these events, where I can be at my prime tennis, mental and physical abilities.”