James Lawton: A brave fight from Nadal but matador moves in for the kill
Djokovic's treatment of Nadal was verging on the sadistic – but it was also sublime
In Spain they talk about mano a mano, hand to hand, a fight of ultimate intensity by two great performers to prove which one is the better, but usually they are referring to the valour and the skill of bullfighters – not tennis players.
This, though, is not likely to be true for quite some time after the extraordinary battle between native son Rafael Nadal and Serbia's Novak Djokovic for the Australian Open title yesterday.
Another phrase of the bull ring is momento de verdad – moment of truth – and again it rang perfectly well in the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. This, after all, was a contest which carried us some way beyond the normal margins of sport and when Djokovic finally won, deep into the sixth hour of the longest Grand Slam final ever played, nobody, and least of all the beaten Nadal, needed telling what the moment meant. For Nadal it brought the terrible possibility that he may never again beat Djokovic, a winner now the last seven times they have met, all of them finals.
For Djokovic, who kissed the large cross that dangled from his neck around about the time that he slid to 4-2 down in the fifth set, it was still more evidence that he is not only the greatest player of his day but potentially of all time.
Yes of course he has a long way to go to catch Roger Federer on his mark of 16 major titles – and even Nadal with his 10 – but at 24 he has come not merely to dominate tennis but almost to devour it.
This was his third straight Grand Slam – an achievement shared with only three others since the great Laver did it in 1969, and their names perfectly underpin Djokovic's status – Pete Sampras, Federer and Nadal. Along with his fifth major, the man from Belgrade also receives the key to the tennis pantheon.
He doesn't make shots so much as produce a series of breathtaking acts of will. He plays beyond both mood – some of his behaviour can be fierce, as we saw at Wimbledon last season when he systematically smashed his racket on the baseline after a series of poor shots – and fatigue.
Nadal had an extra day's rest after beating Federer in his semi-final and Djokovic was required to go nearly five hours against Andy Murray.
Towards the end of yesterday's marathon it seemed that he might just be in the process of crumbling. On one occasion in the decisive set he sprawled on the court after losing a point, then made three desultory attempts to retrieve his racket.
Nadal, like a weary fighter with the sudden surge of hope that comes when he senses that his opponent is closer to breakdown, had some reason to believe that his long torment was over. However, the way Djokovic separated him from this illusion was, in the end, verging on the sadistic. It was also sublime.
Maybe, also, it separated some of us from the conviction that we had seen the greatest tennis match, the most sustained evidence of superior will and endless resource, on Wimbledon's Centre Court in 2008. That also involved Nadal, and when he beat Federer on that stupendous occasion it was very hard not to believe that one great player had arrived and another had looked into the future and seen at the very least the beginning of the end of his best days.
That conviction had to be even stronger in the small hours of an Australian morning. Nobody could have played with more passion or competitive character than Rafa Nadal but the final verdict had to be unequivocal. It was that Djokovic was not only the man of a glorious moment but of some considerable years to come.
Luckless Abou Diaby full of confidence as he attempts yet another Arsenal comeback
Arturo Vidal: Midfielder must ask to join Manchester United, say Juventus
Scottie dogs in Commonwealth Games opening ceremony 'disrespectful to Muslims', say Malaysian politicians
Calum Chambers joins Arsenal: Gunners complete £16m transfer of right-back
Manchester United latest: Angel Di Maria move no closer as Juan Mata emerges as Louis van Gaal's favoured No 10 as prospect of signing
- 1 'Women should not laugh in public,' says Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister in morality speech
- 2 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 3 Is Ebola coming to Britain? UK health officials issue warning to doctors as outbreak fears grow
- 4 Richard Dawkins says 'date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse' on Twitter
- 5 Danish TV reporter is all business up top, all party down below
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc