In a thrilling five set, five hour and fifty-three minute combat, Novak Djokovic halted Rafael Nadal 5-7,6-4,6-2,6-7,7-5 to earn his second consecutive Australian Open trophy, the third of his career.
With Djokovic having carried their last six encounters, all of them finals, Nadal was eager to find a solution to this troubling riddle. Early on, things looked promising for Nadal.
By pressuring his rival into two successive backhand miscues, Nadal got the break for a 3-2 lead in the opening set. After fighting off a couple of break points, Nadal eventually consolidated for 4-2.
On his fifth break point opportunity, Djokovic converted on a forehand error by Nadal and leveled the set at 4 a piece. But serving at 5 all, Djokovic surrendered his serve by mishitting a backhand down the line. Nadal captured the next game to bag the first set.
In the second set, on break point, Djokovic struck a forehand volley which clipped the tape and landed for a winner. Then, by virtue of a backhand mistake by Nadal, Djokovic extended his advantage to 4-1.
After erasing a break point and hanging on to get to 3-5, Nadal survived two more set points and converted his sole break point chance when Djokovic double faulted.
However, serving at 4-5, with Djokovic manufacturing his fourth set point with a backhand down the line winner, Nadal himself double faulted to hand his counterpart the set.
With momentum in his corner, in the third set, Djokovic arrived at break point by sticking a volley crosscourt for a winner. When Nadal’s forehand crosscourt traveled wide, Djokovic pocketed the game and with a love hold stretched his lead to 4-1.
Later, with a forehand winner, Djokovic broke Nadal a second time to close out the third set and take a two set to one advantage in the match.
In the fourth set, Nadal dug out of triple break point to knot the set at four all. At which point, the proceedings were interrupted by rain. Once the roof was closed, play resumed.
With no further break point on offer, the fourth set went to a tiebreaker. Nadal prevailed and for the first time in their rivalry, the match was decided by a fifth set.
Following a four hour and fifty minute semifinal versus Andy Murray and with Nadal having an extra day of rest, Djokovic was viewed at a disadvantage against his ultra-fit opponent. Once again though, Djokovic demonstrated that these days he won’t be denied.
With Djokovic sending a forehand crosscourt wide, Nadal had break point. Because of another Djokovic forehand miscalculation, Nadal capitalized and at 4-2 was just two games from hoisting the trophy.
Yet, ahead 30-15, Nadal misfired on an easy backhand up the line pass leading to 30 all. That donation spurred Djokovic to break point which he converted and ultimately tied the set.
Despite being weary and even reclining on the court after long rallies, Djokovic refused to relent. After swiftly getting to 5 all, by being aggressive, particularly with the second serve return, Djokovic forced Nadal into a backhand error to capture the crucial break and move to 6-5.
Subsequent to dismissing break point which led to deuce, Djokovic reached championship point when Nadal flubbed a backhand crosscourt. With a forehand winner, Djokovic sealed the victory and punctuated the longest final at a major.
While it’s painful to come up short in such an epic struggle, Nadal stated “nothing to do. . .just accept [it]. I think we played a great tennis match. . . I wanted to win, but I’m happy how I did. . . I am very happy about my mentality tonight”.
Hours prior to the start of the tournament, Nadal needed an emergent MRI because of sudden pain in his knee. Consequently, he felt to have competed this well in this marathon encounter is a triumph in itself “when you are [passionate] about the game, . . . you are able to suffer and enjoy suffering”.
With five majors under his belt, four of the last five, Djokovic said that this victory “comes out on top” as the greatest of his career “because we played almost six hours. . . [either] of us could have won the match. . . I felt my body starting to slow down. . . So mentally, I tried to hang in there. . . We live for these matches”.
Djokovic sympathized with Nadal saying “we both put 100% of our abilities on the court. . .he definitely deserved to be a winner out there tonight. . . . Unfortunately, there had to be one winner”.
After this grueling final, Djokovic was asked whether he thought he could duplicate last year’s amazing success and even win the calendar slam. He replied “if that’s the way I have to go through [with tough matches] . . . I will have to accept it. I’m not concerned about the rest of the year right now. . . I am going to have some weeks off and try to enjoy this victory”.
With Djokovic’s confidence reaching the stratosphere after this performance, it will be fascinating to see if anyone can pull the brakes on him in 2012.