With the 2013 Australian Open final approaching, Michael Hale looks back at last year’s classic between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal (final, 2012)
5–7, 6–4, 6–2, 6–7 (5), 7–5
Novak Djokovic’s 2011 season has gone down as one of the great seasons in tennis history and, perhaps, in that of all sports. At the heart of it was the Serb’s dominance over Rafael Nadal; Djokovic defeated Nadal in all of their six matches through the year, all of which came in the final of a grand slam or masters series event. Having beaten the Spaniard on the North American hard courts to win the Indian Wells and Miami masters titles, Djokovic surprised the tennis cognoscenti by doing the same on clay in Rome and Madrid before stripping Nadal of his Wimbledon and US Open crowns later in the year. Along the way this run of results also saw Nadal cede the number one ranking to his latently deadly rival.
At the beginning of 2012 the pair met in their third consecutive grand slam final, this time in Melbourne at the Australian Open. Djokovic had battled past Andy Murray in just under five hours while Nadal had overcome his longtime rival Roger Federer in four sets; the stage was set for the top two players to do battle.
From the start it was clear that Nadal was going to throw everything he possessed at Djokovic and he took a protracted and attritional first set 7-5. Nadal went up a break in the second set before Djokovic hit top form, taking that set 6-4 and easily sweeping through the third 6-2. However Nadal never lost heart and the match tightened up in the fourth and headed to a tiebreak. Djokovic looked set to clinch the title with a 5-2 lead in the breaker but Nadal took five points in a row to force a final set. The intensity ratcheted higher and higher as the set unfolded and Nadal seized a break to lead 4-2. However the Serb could not be denied and he broke back for 4-4 and after splitting the next two games broke again and then served out for the championship.
At five hours and fifty-three minutes, the match was the longest ever played at the Australian Open and the longest grand slam final in the open era. Such was the physical expenditure both players wobbled as they stood for the unnecessarily long and inflexible presentation ceremony. ‘It was obvious to everyone,’ said Djokovic afterwards, ‘that we had taken every last drop of energy from our bodies.’
For his part, Nadal spoke of the pride he felt at being part of such a match and his intention to keep working after coming so close this time. He would be rewarded for his determination four months later when he received the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy at Roland Garros for a record seventh time while Djokovic took his turn as the gracious beaten finalist.
– The video above is a highlight reel of the match