Top 5 Nole vs. Rafa: No. 1, 2012 Australian Open Final
When it comes to this year's French Open, there are two clear favorites on the men's side: Novak Djokovic, winner of the last three Grand Slam tournaments, and Rafael Nadal, the six-time and defending Roland Garros champion. Whether they'll collide in Paris remains to be seen, but the two 25-year-olds have given us a career's worth of classics already. Richard Pagliaro counts down his top five this week.
No. 1: 2012 Australian Open Final
Djokovic d. Nadal, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5
The world’s top two men poured passion into corner-to-corner rallies, pushing each other all over the court in propelling a pulsating final into the record books. The five hour, 53-minute Aussie epic made history as the longest Grand Slam final and offered its share of plot twists and momentum shifts, as Nadal rallied to force a fifth set, and a determined Djokovic stormed back to find the finish line after trailing 4-2.
The 2010 champion stared down a bleak triple break-point, 3-4 deficit in the fourth set. Swinging with the force of a man intent on snapping his six-match final losing streak to Djokovic, Nadal summoned some of his most daring shotmaking ripping a pair of groundstroke winners and unloading three service winners to earn a hard-fought hold. Djokovic drove a dagger of a forehand winner for a 5-3 lead in the tie breaker only to see a resilient Rafa again claw his way back into the match. The 10-time Grand Slam champion reeled off four points in a row to force a fifth.
Early in his career, Djokovic’s conditioning was questioned as he tapped out of major matches, but he silenced sceptics by following up his four hour, 50-minute semifinal triumph over Andy Murray with yet another enthralling encounter with Nadal.
The tension and rallies ratcheted up in the fifth set with several exchanges spanning 20 or more shots. Serving at 4-2 in the decider, Nadal had a clear look at a backhand pass up the line, but steered it narrowly wide of the sideline. It was a miss, he may well rue as Djokovic broke back for 3-4. Points became pain tests of the pair’s pain threshold as both men made some remarkable retrievals and delivered eye-popping winners. Djokovic, who earned 20 break points in the match, scored his seventh break for a 6-5 lead then served out a memorable marathon. Nadal suffered his seventh straight final loss to Djokovic, but said he found peace of mind in the pain.
That's nice be there fighting, trying to go to the limit, bring your body to the limit of his chances,” Nadal said. “Something I really enjoy, and I always said is good to enjoy suffering, no? So when you are fit, with passion for the game, when you are ready to compete, you are able to suffer and enjoy suffering. So today I had this feeling, and is a really good one. I suffered during the match, but I enjoyed all the troubles that I had during all the match. I tried to be there, to find solutions all the time. I played a lot with my heart. I played a lot with my mind, and is something that is nice to be around and not just play tennis.”
Djokovic collected his third consecutive Grand Slam title, and fifth major championship overall, while relegating Nadal to an ignominious place in tennis history as the first man to lose three straight major finals (all to Djokovic). Both men spoke about savouring the suffering they felt in the fifth set.
“You are in pain, you are suffering, you’re just trying to activate your legs, you’re trying to push yourself another point, just one more point, one more game,” Djokovic said. “You are going through so much suffering your toes are bleeding. Everything is just outrageous, you know, but you’re still enjoying the pain.”