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Australian Open: Djokovic Beats Nadal To Defend Title In Epic Final
In all my years of watching the great game of tennis, I have been lucky enough to have watched better played matches then this year's Australian Open final, between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, but I can't think of another match or for that matter, sporting event, that has ever had two guys lay it all on the line as these two great champions did on Sunday in Melbourne.
Edmonton - January 29, 2012 - In all my years of watching the great game of tennis, I have been lucky enough to have watched matches that were even bettter than this year's Australian Open final, between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
Having said that, I can't think of another match or for that matter, sporting event, that has ever had two guys lay it all on the line, as these two great champions did on Sunday in Melbourne.
Everyone was hoping for another memorable final and these two warriors did not disappoint. In what was the longest Grand Slam match in open era history, Djokovic managed to defend his title in five grueling sets 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5, in a battle that took five hours and fifty-three minutes to complete.
With the victory, the number one ranked Serb has now captured the last three major titles and four of the past five, dating back to last year's Aussie Open. He will now take aim at becoming the first man to win all four majors in a season, since the great Rod Laver last accomplished the feat in 1969.
Djokovic came into this one as the favourite, having beat Nadal in all six matches between the two last year, two of them coming in Grand Slam Finals at Wimbledon and US Open. Both men played tough semi-finals to advance but Rafa had the easier match, coming into the the final and an extra day of rest.
Neither player was great to start things off but it was Djokovic who seemed off. His ground strokes were off the mark, from both wings, and it allowed Nadal the opportunity to make the first move and break his counterpart in the fifth game. Even with Djokovic struggling to find his game, the number one seed would break back but Nadal broke him for a second timea, to go up 6-5 and then held serve to take the opening set.
For a change, Rafa looked comfortable against Novak in the opening set and was winning almost 70% of the points on his first serve. While Djokovic did not serve particularly well, he was starting to move Nadal around the court while continuing to focus on going to the left-handers backhand. The Spaniard took set number one but the Serb was starting to find the mark.
Djokovic started to make life difficult for Rafa with his return of serve. Nearly every return he hit found the baseline or directly at the number two seeds feet. His persistence paid off, as he would break Rafa in game number four, when his terrific volley skipped off the baseline to give him a 3-1 lead. The two remained on serve and with a 5-3 lead, Djokovic was serving for the set and a double fault on game point handed Nadal the service break.
Unfortunately for the six-time French Open champion, he would give it right back, when he badly missed his second serve on break point, handing Novak the set.
The Serb had found his game and was starting to impose his will, on the frustrated Spaniard. He would outlast Nadal in a lengthy 20-shot rally, that resulted in another break and a 3-1 lead. The tide had turned and the talented Serb was looking unstoppable. He would break him one more time to go up 5-2 and serve out the set at love, to take a one set lead.
Though Djokovic continued to carry the play through much of the fourth set, the two remained on serve, with Nadal escaping disaster in the eighth game. With the score 4-3 and Rafa facing triple break point, the Spaniard’s never quit attitude and ability to will himself back into matches came shining through.
First came a forehand winner, followed by an ace and then a brilliant backhand that caught Djokovic off balance and suddenly...we are at deuce and Rafa was fist pumping. He followed that run with another ace and a service winner and just like that, they were tied at four and Nadal was re-energized.
At that point, play was stopped as the rain clouds decided to open up and the players were forced to take a ten minute breather, while the retractable roof above Rod Laver Arena was closed. Once play resumed, each man held serve twice and they were off to a tie breaker.
In all honesty, it was a set Nadal had no right being in but his unwillingness to give up, served him well and gave him a punchers chance in the tiebreaker.
The defending champ jumped out to a 5-3 lead but Rafa would pull off a 16-shot rally, with some mesmerizing defence and evened things up when Djokovic's service return clipped the net. Nadal would take the next two points to close out the breaker and force a fifth set. Mind boggling stuff but never surprising when Rafa is involved.
Djokovic looked as though his back-to-back marathons were starting to catch up to him but like Rafa in the previous set, he managed to keep things on serve…until game number six. With number one seed struggling to generate the same pace on his ground strokes, Nadal started to run everything down and earn his first break point since the third set. He would make the most of his opportunity and go up 4-2. The momentum had clearly swung in the second seeds favour.
With Rafa serving and up 30-15, he sent an easy backhand just wide and it would prove rather costly. The Serb took full advantage and fought back to break, which included a ridiculous 32-shot rally from these two gladiators. A rally of that length is something to marvel at during a regular match but it is so much more during the fifth set of a Grand Slam final...that was well into it's fifth hour!
They continued to push one another but neither would break until Djokovic would finally earn a break to go up 6-5 and the have the title on his racquet. Nadal would get to break point but the defending champion would fight off the final challenge and put this one to bed...and than collapse to court.
A marvelous final and a wonderful tournament! The scary thing is, that was the first major of the season...what could they possibly do to top that?
The victory was Djokovic’s seventh consecutive win over Nadal and third straight in a Grand Slam final. It was a tough way for Rafa to lose but he has no reason to hang his head. These two men left everything they had out on that court and in the process, gave fans what was, arguably, the greatest bit of theatre ever seen in sport.
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