So much has been said about the epic 5 hour 53 minute final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the 2012 Australian Open. Every accolade is deserved. Both players went beyond skill and will, entering the realm of guts and glory. These two great champions lifted themselves and the game of tennis. In the end, Djokovic outlasted Nadal to successfully defend his 2011 crown. It’s really too bad there couldn’t have been two winners in a match like this, the longest final in Major history during the Open era.
For Rafael Nadal, the bad news is that although he still has a slight edge over Nole in total career head-to-head match-ups, he has now lost 7 straight matches to Djokovic. Those are all finals and now 3 straight Major finals; Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open. At the moment, it’s all Novak. However, Rafa played Djokovic better in Melbourne than he did in New York or London. Rafa was even up in the 5th set and had a chance to put Novak away. However, to be fair, Novak also blew a triple break point against Rafa in the 4th that probably would have ended it in 4 for Djokovic. Still, I think Nadal has to be encouraged that on hardcourts, arguably Nole’s best surface, he took Djokovic to the edge. Rafa went 0 for 6 against Nole in 2011. If Nadal is healthy this year, he will not go winless against Novak again unless Djokovic somehow manages to go to even another plateau.
And that brings us to Novak Djokovic. Will this war of a win elevate his game and confidence to an even higher level? If it does, the rest of the field better look out. I think he also finally has a signature match on his record now. As great as he was last year, I think his signature moment was the forehand return he cracked against Roger Federer at the US Open on the first of two match points against him. He came back to beat Federer that day, but it was nothing like this match against Nadal. This is his Thrilla in Manila. And like Ali and Frazier in that fight, this match doesn’t highlight Nole’s highest show of skill, but rather the time he had to dig deepest and show he isn’t just the world’s #1 player, he is tough. He could not have beaten Rafa in this kind of match 2 years ago. He has matured so much since leading Serbia to the Davis Cup title at the end of 2010. He got a gut check in this match. Both players did. And both passed the test. Again, it’s too bad there couldn’t have been two winners. If there is one thing Nole should do this year that he didn’t do last year it is to be more careful with his schedule. When you are winning nearly every tournament you enter, it’s great. But it also means you play more matches than everybody else. So maybe he should skip some of the events he played last year, even if it means not defending those points. He really ran himself into the ground by the end of the year.
(note: all of these pics are from the final. Novak changed shirts a few times during the match)
from the Champion’s Photocall