Djokovic beats Nadal in epic Australian Open final

 

Novak Djokovic tonight outlasted Rafael Nadal to retain his Australian Open title in the longest grand slam final of all time.

The Serbian won an epic encounter 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7(5/7) 7-5 in five hours and 53 minutes, beating the previous record of four hours and 54 minutes set by Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander at the 1988 US Open.

The win in what was also the longest match ever at the Australian Open meant Djokovic became just the fifth man to win three successive grand slam titles following his victories at Wimbledon and the US Open last year.

It was Nadal who made the first move of the match, breaking for a 3-2 first-set lead, a development which caused Djokovic to hurl his racquet to the floor in frustration.

And although the Serbian hit back to level it at 4-4, Nadal came again, reclaiming the advantage and then serving it out to edge a set ahead.

Djokovic responded well in the second as he finally started to find his range.

The punishing forehand had returned as he started to control the rallies from the centre of the court.

He broke for 3-1 thanks to a low volley which landed on the baseline and seemed to be cruising until Nadal hit back to break with Djokovic attempting to serve the set out.

The pressure swung back Nadal's way and he failed to cope, a double fault on Djokovic's fourth set point levelling matters.

The feeling the match was turning Djokovic's way strengthened at the start of the third as he continued to bully his opponent, who was relying on errors for points.

It was inevitable a break would finally arrive and it did as a whipped winning forehand enabled Djokovic to move 3-1 up.

And with the top seed now in full flow, he threatened again on the Nadal serve at 4-1 only for the French Open champion to cling on.

But there was to be no reprieve with Nadal 5-2 down. Djokovic surged to 0-40 and claimed another break and the set with a blistering forehand down the line.

Nadal is a renowned fighter and he started the fourth set with renewed resolve.

Also, perhaps sensing the match was getting away from him, he started to go for more on his forehand.

But Djokovic was not for moving.

The favourite was still displaying the look of a confident man and made his move in the eighth game with some stunning tennis bringing up three break points.

Again Nadal fought, saving the first with a crunching forehand winner, the second with a big serve and the third with a backhand behind his opponent. And from deuce he completed the comeback with two big serves to level it at 4-4.

At that juncture, the forecast rain arrived, forcing the players to take a short break while the roof on Rod Laver Arena was closed.

When play resumed, Djokovic held for 5-4, finishing the game with a brilliant forehand down the line.

And with Nadal not troubled on serve either, the set went to a tie-break.

The breaker ebbed and flowed until Nadal set up a set point at 6-5 and he clinched it when Djokovic put a forehand into the tramlines.

It was rapidly turning into another classic.

Both men had worked hard to get to the final - Djokovic requiring four hours and 50 minutes to get past Andy Murray and Nadal three hours and 42 minutes to see off Roger Federer.

Crucially, though, Nadal's match had taken place 24 hours earlier and in the early stages of the fifth the Spaniard seemed to have a greater spring in his step.

And so it proved as he claimed the first break of the decider to move 4-2 up as Djokovic sent a cross-court forehand long.

But the match swiftly took another swing, Djokovic breaking back straight away to get it back on serve.

The sheer physical effort required by both players was evident in the first point of the ninth game when a 31-shot rally ended with Djokovic sending a backhand long before dropping to the floor in exhaustion.

Despite his obvious fatigue, the Serbian still conjured up a break point only for Nadal to escape with a superb swinging serve out wide and eventually hold for a 5-4 lead.

Djokovic had another two at 5-5, the first saved by a booming Nadal second serve but on the second he made the breakthrough as the Spaniard netted a sliced backhand.

Inevitably Nadal was not done and he had a break point himself with Djokovic serving for the match.

By now though there were no more miracles left and having staved off the danger, Djokovic set up a match point which he took with a winning forehand to complete a remarkable win.

PA

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