Djokovic beats Nadal in Australian Open final
1/29/2012 11:00:11 PM -
Novak Djokovic cemented his place at the top of men's tennis by outlasting Rafael Nadal in a five-set epic to retain his Australian Open title.
The world number one edged a gripping battle with the second seed 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 in five hours 53 minutes to win his fifth Grand Slam.
It was the longest final in Grand Slam history, finishing at 0137 local time.
Djokovic, who also beat the Spaniard in their previous six meetings, has now triumphed at the last three majors.
But this might be the sweetest of them all for so many reasons.
His semi-final against Britain's Andy Murray was played a day later than Nadal's with Roger Federer, and lasted four hours 50 minutes.
The Serbian also fought back from break down in the final set as Nadal did everything he could to reverse the balance on their recent rivalry.
Djokovic fell to the floor after planting the winning forehand, tore his shirt off and celebrated with his team in the stands.
"Rafa is one of best players ever and one of the most respected guys on tour," said Djokovic, who will hold all four Grand Slam trophies if he wins the French Open in June.
"Unfortunately there couldn't be two winners and I hope we have many more matches like this."
Nadal knew he needed to play more aggressively to halt his losing sequence against Djokovic and the plan initially worked as he opened with two service holds and then broke for 3-2.
He was attacking Djokovic with ferocious pace and accuracy and, although the top seed pulled level at 4-4, Nadal upped the ante when it mattered.
A huge off-forehand helped him break for 6-5, and he served out the first set with a roar of delight.
But Djokovic gathered himself to register break points in Nadal's first two service games of the second set, striking for 3-1 with a forehand volley to the baseline.
Djokovic's service statistics were vastly improved and although a rare double-fault made it 5-4, Nadal returned the favour in the following game to level the contest.
The momentum had shifted and Djokovic was unwilling to let go, a poor Nadal forehand putting Djokovic 3-1 ahead in set three.
Djokovic dropped only two points on serve and broke again in game eight with a crushing forehand to lead for the first time.
Tension was palpable in a 88-minute fourth set as the crowd feasted on the latest thrilling encounter between two greats of the sport.
Neither man showed any vulnerability until game eight, when Nadal faced 0-40 but brilliantly saved all three break points to level at 4-4.
He was suddenly buzzing and twice successfully served to stay in the set before overturning a 5-3 deficit to edge the tie-break.
Nadal dropped to his knees with joy and it was he who made the first move in the decider, going 4-2 in front when Djokovic fired long.
However, Nadal then missed a routine backhand at at 30-15 in game seven, throwing the momentum away and helping Djokovic hit back.
The right-hander could not take an opportunity in game nine but made no mistake in game 11 when Nadal netted a backhand.
He finally brought proceedings to a close by wrong-footing Nadal - but only after saving the 26th break point of the match.
"Congratulations to Novak and his team, they deserve it, they are doing something fantastic," stated Nadal.
"I've had a fantastic two weeks. Thanks to my team for their support - without them it would be impossible for me to be here."