6 hour tennis

Djokovic Wins Epic Final Over Nadal to Take Australian Open Title

by Lisa-Marie Burrows, Special for Tennis Grandstand

World No.1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic was victorious once again on Rod Laver Arena in a spectacular Australian Open Final to win his third straight major championship after defeating Rafael Nadal 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 at Melbourne Park.

The two current greatest players in the world locked horns for an epic 5 hours and 53-minutes in a match that had more twists and turns than a rollercoaster, finishing at 1:37am local time. It was a war of attrition, physicality and mental strength between the rivals, but it was the defending champion, Djokovic, (who won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open last year) that was victorious and retained his title in a marathon match.

The fitness of Novak Djokovic was questionable at the start of the match, as he needed almost five hours to fend off Andy Murray in the semifinals, but the Serb refused to give in to any aching limbs or fatigue in the long dual.

The opening set took an exhausting 1 hour and 20-minutes in which the level of play soared and dipped, as neither player was near their best. – yet. It had moments of sparkling shots and then inconsistency. Both players were finding their feet and settling into the occasion. Djokovic was adjusting to the immense spin generated from the Spaniard’s racquet, whilst Nadal was staring at his biggest rival of the season, seeking a way to end the torment of losing to him once again for a seventh time.

Eventually, it was the world No.2 who maintained the momentum to break serve in the 11th game at 7-5 and the Djoker looked slightly weary and temporarily out of sorts as he struggled with his rallies and the level of aggression from Nadal.

At the start of the second set, the change of shirt to a black top seemed to clear the mind of Djokovic as he turned into the beast in black. He became the dominant force, the hunter of the ball and he took his prey. Pressuring Rafa in the rallies and with outstanding service returns, the top seed seemed more at ease and quickly broke to go up 4-1. Nadal’s aggressive game plan faltered and he watched in awe as he saw Djokovic’s incredible return of serve frequently sail past him, as quickly as the set at 4-6.

Nadal’s confidence deteriorated in the third set and so did the range and depth of his shots. Perhaps thoughts of his previous three Grand Slam final defeats plagued his mind as he had no answer to the blistering backhands and fiery forehands flying off the Serb’s racquet. Nadal was pushed to his defensive limits, but to no avail, as Djokovic comfortably stole the set 6-2 after a thunderous forehand down the line.

The world No.2 showed to those who doubted his capability of winning at that point his strength, determination and true grit as he fought back in the fourth set. The crowd was delighted to see the match return to its highest quality of tennis. Nadal faced three break points at 3-4 but staved them off after returning back to his initial game plan: aggression. The Spaniard continually painted the lines with wide, deep balls, pulling Djokovic from one side to the other and the crowd roared with delight as the set was taken to a tiebreak. Both players achieved a mini-break, but it was Nadal who clinched it at 7-5 after Djokovic hit a forehand wide into the tramlines.

Nadal’s exquisite game climaxed as he continued to play immaculately. He broke to go up 4-2 in the fifth set as Djokovic began to look fatigued but was gifted a lifeline after an unusually sloppy game from the Spaniard, who hit a backhand long enabling the Serb to break back.

Djokovic was in the ascendency after staging his comeback in the fifth and with adrenaline pumping through his veins, he broke Nadal one further time for a 6-5 lead. He saved a break point before finally claiming the win and becoming crowned the Australian Open champion once again.

The 24-year-old Djokovic dispelled of all fatigue and soreness in his body and used his last piece of strength to tear off his shirt in celebration at the end after one of the most tumultuous and dramatic finals in the history of the game. He not only fought against the odds, he achieved one of the hardest quests possible in tennis- successfully defending a Grand Slam title.

It is very rare to see standing ovations for individual points, but thus was the quality of tennis by two superior athletes who showed irrepressible mental stamina as well as physical stamina. Neither player required medical attention and showed no signs of cramping. The match showed their superhuman efforts to fulfil a dream in the longest dual in history at the Australian Open. What other sport plays for more than 6 hours at this intense level?

Both players showed great heart, great character and are outstanding ambassadors for the sport. Their speeches were gracious in victory and defeat and after a long, fantastic two weeks of the tournament, the winner may have been Novak Djokovic, but the real champion is tennis, for having these two, remarkable sportsmen in it.