Djokovic wins heavyweight epic

Filled in: Tennis News | 30/1/2012 at 2:30am

Novak Djokovic ripped his shirt and stalked around bare chested like a triumphant boxer. And so he should have – he had just won the closest thing a tennis match can come to a heavyweight title fight.

The world No.1 had been flat out on his back 30 minutes earlier, apparently knocked out. But he clawed back to beat world No.2 Rafael Nadal and claim the Australian Open title in the longest match in the tournament’s history.

At 1.37am on Monday morning, five hours and 53 minutes after Djokovic served to open the match on Sunday night, he fell to the ground again, lay on his back and roared at the Rod Laver Arena ceiling after beating Nadal 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (7-5) 7-5.
“Good morning everyone,” Djokovic told the crowd as he opened his acceptance speech.

“Rafa, you’re one of the best players ever. We made history tonight. Unfortunately there couldn’t be two winners tonight.”
It was his third successive win over the Spaniard in a grand slam final, joining Nadal, Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Rod Laver as the only men to win three consecutive grand slams in the open era. He’s now collected four of the last five majors to add to his 2008 Australian Open crown.
He should also be given a heavyweight title belt.

Djokovic fell to the ground in exhaustion after sending a backhand long to end a stunning 31-shot rally at the start of the ninth game of the fifth set.

But he got back on his feet and took Nadal to deuce with some stunning tennis before the Spaniard held serve.

It was that sort of match. The world No.1 was knocked down and got back up, the world No.2 looked gone, but got back up. The world No.1 appeared out on his feet but responded, the world No.2 was staring at defeat but answered the challenge.
Just as Djokovic looked on the brink of closing out the match when he had three break points at 4-3 in the fourth set, Nadal fought magnificently to hold serve and took the set in a tiebreak.

He then broke in the fifth set to go 4-2 up and looked like he was on top of the tired Djokovic who suffered a “physical crisis” as he spent just under five hours beating Andy Murray two days earlier in the semi-final.
But the Serb broke back straight away and the match was back on even terms.

At 5-5 in the fifth, it was still impossible to tell who had the ascendancy. And all of a sudden, Djokovic broke and stepped up to serve for the match.
But as he quickly got to 30-0, it couldn’t be that simple. Nadal fought one more time and held a break point. But Djokovic also had one more punch left in him to knock Nadal out and claim his third Australian Open title.

Australia’s last Open winner, Mark Edmondson, may have looked a little out of place alongside greats Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Ken Rosewall and John Newcombe during the pre-match ceremony.

But Djokovic will take his place comfortably next to Federer and Nadal in the conversation about modern day greats.