King Djokovic reigns supreme
Serb defeats Nadal in longest title match in grand slam history
By Razwan Mirza. Last Updated: 30/01/12 8:10am
World number one Novak Djokovic claimed his third straight major championship after defeating Rafael Nadal in an epic Australian Open final in Melbourne.
Djokovic, who won Wimbledon and the US Open last year as well as the title in Melbourne 12 months ago, kept his crown by overcoming the 10-time Grand Slam champion in a five-set thriller 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5/7) 7-5 at Rod Laver Arena after five hours and 53 minutes.
The match was almost an hour longer than the 1988 US Open final between Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl and also beat the Australian Open record of 5hr 14min set by Nadal and Fernando Verdasco in 2009.
And the Serbian becomes only the fifth man in the Open Era to win three straight slams, joining Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and his opponent Nadal on the list.
The 24-year-old Djokovic tore off his shirt in celebration at the end after one of the most dramatic finals in the history of the game.
Nadal claimed the early initiative by winning the first set against the world number one. The momentum shifted one way and then the other but a break in the 11th game proved crucial as the Spaniard took it 7-5 after a gruelling hour and 20 minutes as neither player settled to their best tennis.
Djokovic hit back after making a strong start to the second set and eventually made the breakthrough at 2-1 courtesy of a fantastic low volley which landed on the baseline.
The right-hander from Belgrade maintained his dominance thanks to two solid holds although he failed to serve out the set, allowing Nadal to break to make it 5-4, but the Mallorcan could not cope with the pressure and a double fault on Djokovic's fourth set point levelled matters.
Djokovic was dictating from the baseline with Nadal's points coming mainly from errors from his opponent in the third set.
And the pressure finally told on Nadal when a whipped winning forehand saw Djokovic break for a 3-1 lead.
The French Open champion clung on to his serve at 4-2. 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.
The world number two was showing all his customary grit in the fourth set but at 4-4 the forecast rain arrived, forcing the players to take a short break while the roof on Rod Laver Arena was closed.
When play resumed, the set went to a tie-break and although it ebbed and flowed, Nadal set up a set point at 6-5 and he clinched it when Djokovic put a forehand into the tramlines.
Nadal seemed to be on top in the fifth and final set and went up a break at 4-2 with Djokovic seeming to be wilting in the awful humidity.
But the Serb, who needed almost five hours to win his semi-final against Andy Murray, somehow responded. He broke for a 6-5 lead and saved a break point before holding his nerve to serve out the match and join the list of greats.