This article really should have been written yesterday or even the day before but I have to be honest, it has taken me a day or two to recover after watching every ball of the Australian Open men’s final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Those lucky enough to watch these two gladiators at war with each other on Sunday will not be forgetting the match for quite some time. In fact, this contest will probably have left an indelible mark on most viewers’ minds.
There were so many intriguing plotlines to follow and these only got more numerous and compelling as the match progressed, so much so that the fifth and final set was the most gruelling and high quality of the five.
Many people have said there was no loser after Djokovic outlasted his great rival 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5. This goes without saying. Nadal could easily have won the match and very nearly did after missing an easy backhand to go 40-15 up at 4-2 in the fifth. However, in ‘defeat’ he received nearly as many plaudits as Djokovic and rightly so.
However, the victor deserves every ounce of praise he receives as he is the only man who could have lived with the intensity of his rival and not only survive but to win was a staggering achievement against Nadal, a man already assured of his place in tennis’ hall of fame. Now Djokovic is assured of his place too.
I did not think men’s tennis could go up in quality before this match. For the last two or three years the men’s game has been arguably the most consistently high quality sporting action on the planet. The awesome four of Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray have swept all before them and it is not just the quality of the play but the quality of the rivalries between the four that makes them stand out from other sports.
It takes a lot to get people saying a match is as good as the Federer-Nadal classics of Wimbledon 2008 and Australia 2009. The plotlines of Nadal’s first Wimbledon win are hard to match. The Spaniard finally overcame Federer in five amazing sets after nearly five hours in the south London dusk after losing to his great rival in the previous two finals at SW19. The juxtaposition of brain versus brawn was intriguing and it must be said that this result was the beginning of the end for Federer in his tussle with Nadal.
The 2009 Aussie Open final was legendary as Federer looked to get back on equal terms with Nadal who himself was looking to cap an annus mirabilis after wins at the French Open, Wimbledon and winning Olympic gold in Beijing. The match was epic, with Nadal winning in five after also coming through against his fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in five sets in the semi-final. The sight of Nadal consoling his fierce rival with an arm around his shoulder as the Swiss cried will live long in the memory.
But, Sunday’s final matched those games in many ways. It was the longest Grand Slam final ever at 5 hours 53 minutes. It was the most brutal of the three in terms of the amount of endurance required to keep winning points as the two men involved have genuine claims to be the two best defensive players in history. Djokovic’s celebration at the end alone proves what it meant to win.
When a player reacts like that to winning a match you know something memorable has just happened. The Serbian’s animalistic roar of joy, ripping off his sweat-stained shirt before banging his fists against his chest was one of the most intense celebrations ever.
There are many sporting images that instantly enter sporting folklore. The sight of the world’s best tennis player showing that kind of emotion is one of them.
The fact that Nadal had also celebrated so emphatically by getting down on his knees and pumping his fists and oversized biceps, almost as if he had won the match, when winning the fourth set to take it to a decider showed everyone all they needed to know about what this meant to both players.
Nadal is desperate to win a Grand Slam title again. But, he is even more desperate to beat Djokovic in the final while doing it. He had lost to Djokovic in six finals in a row prior to Sunday, two of them in Slams (Wimbledon and the US Open). He has worked on reversing this trend since that August night in New York when Nole confirmed his position as the new Nadal. Sadly for this proud and great Spaniard, he could not prevent it becoming seven in a row.
It is wonderful to see tennis, and men’s tennis in particular, getting the plaudits it deserves as it has been arguably the most consistently entertaining sport around for the past few years.
The thing that makes men’s tennis even better than just the entertainment on offer is that the four pugilists involved at the top are arguably among the game’s greatest ambassadors. This is especially true of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer who have done so much to appeal to fans across the world in their different styles. Rarely will you see any sportsmen give as meaningful and well delivered a speech, either in victory or defeat, as Nole or Rafa.
The good news is there is no sign of this sporting juggernaut slowing down as the hunger for success and Grand Slam trophies of the game’s top four appears limitless. Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray have re-defined the perimeters of tennis and who is to say they will not keep improving.