Novak Djokovic confirmed his credentials as one of the great champions of tennis when defeating Rafael Nadal in a remarkable and record-breaking Australian Open final.The defending champion overcame a 4-2 deficit in the deciding set to win 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5) 7-5 in a 5.53-hour epic that will be recognised as an all-time classic given it became the longest grand slam final ever and also the longest Australian Open match ever.
That there was another twist should not surprise. After breaking Nadal at 5-all, Djokovic moved to within two points of the match only for Nadal to scramble from side to side to somehow gain a break point.
Djokovic, after crunching a backhand with all his might, crossed himself repeatedly seeking the divine intervention clearly needed to finish this contest.
His prayer was answered, with a Nadal shot clipping the net chord and bouncing out to give him championship point. A forehand sealed it. Words, though, can not do justice to how remarkable the match was.
It is a match so superb that it will be discussed whenever the great grand slam finals are discussed. It is also a most fitting finale to an extraordinary Australian Open.
From Bernard Tomic's come-from-behind victory over Fernando Verdasco to the epic semi-finals between the world's four best players, the quality of tennis on display has been staggering.
Melbourne conquered yet again, the one grand slam frontier not yet breached at Roland Garros is the next obvious target for Djokovic at the end of May. Shortly before last year's US Open, Nadal made an admission startling given his status as a champion. He conceded in an interview in New York that Djokovic had him beaten mentally.
He knew it. His rival knew it. The interview confirmed what the world suspected. Djokovic does to Nadal when the Spaniard does to Roger Federer at grand slam level. The Serbian, of course, claimed the US Crown. And it is difficult to argue that he has not set the pattern for 2012 given his victory after dropping the opening set.
History favoured the Spaniard from there given his incredible grand slam record after winning the first set. Prior to last night, Nadal had lost just once in the 134 grand slam matches after claiming the first set. That average is halved now but one suspects that is not the thing that will most worry the Spaniard.
Djokovic must be credited for his stamina given he what has been a brutal second week in his defence. In a quarter-final against David Ferrer, the world No 1 looked in extreme distress with the breathing difficulties that plagued him again in his thriller against Andy Murray. His semi-final win over the Scot on Friday night was an epic, with Djokovic stretched to the limit to win 7-5 in the fifth in a match just shy of five hours.
Last night's opening, too, was brutal. But that Djokovic remained strong even after losing an opening first set lasting 80 minutes underlines his durability. The time Nadal needed to clinch the first set was only two minutes shy of that taken by Victoria Azarenka to rout Maria Sharapova a night earlier.
Earlier in the tournament, Djokovic actually sent Nicolas Mahut - the man who lost to John Isner in the longest match ever played at Wimbledon two years ago - packing from Melbourne in less time. From there it was Djokovic who raised the bar. The now five-time grand slam winner seized the momentum early in the second set with an outstanding low volley that cleaned the baseline.
Nadal, of course, continued to fight and sparked a surge of energy in a crowd flattened by the stifling, still conditions in Rod Laver Arena when launching a comeback from two set points to break Djokovic for 5-4.
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