In one of the most extraordinary finals in Grand Slam history, Novak Djokovic continued his reign atop the game and his mastery of Rafael Nadal with a record-setting 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 victory in the Australian Open final.
The match lasted five hours, 53 minutes, shattering the record for the longest Grand Slam final in history. It was also the longest continuous match in major history and the third-longest overall.
For Djokovic, it was his third straight major title. He joins Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Nadal as the only men in the Open Era to accomplish that feat. Djokovic also has won seven finals in a row against Nadal, including in each of those three Slam finals.
Nadal took the first set, but rarely has getting out to an early lead inspired so little confidence. Djokovic's game was off early in the match and it took Nadal 80 minutes to capitalize and grind out the set. Djokovic reasserted himself in the next two sets and appeared to be on his way to cruising to a four-set victory when he held a 40-0 lead on Nadal's serve at 4-4 in the fourth set.
But Nadal fought back with six gutty points and went on to extend the match by winning a fourth-set tiebreak.
In the fifth set, Nadal seemed to have the upper hand. Djokovic was in his 10th hour on the court since Friday and his legs showed it. Nadal broke at 3-2 and had an easy backhand to go up 40-15 on his serve. He pushed it wide, Djokovic came back to break. What was close to being a 5-2 Nadal lead was back on serve at 4-3.
Even as the match stretched past previous records, the top two players in the world were exchanging rallies of over 30 shots. Djokovic broke Nadal at 5-5 and then held his serve to take the final set, 7-5. By the time it was over, it was past 1:30 a.m. in Melbourne.
Nadal may have been the loser on the scoreboard, but the match was won by Djokovic, not lost by Nadal. Though Rafa played a passive game for the middle sets, he ramped it up late, turning aggressive on Djokovic's serve and going for more winners as the hours grew later. Djokovic was simply better. He was able to hold serve easier throughout the match and put pressure on Nadal with his assertive return game.
The loss may not be as devastating for Nadal as you'd expect. Had he gone down without much of a fight then there could have been concern that the gulf between he and Djokovic was too wide. The pain of losing the longest match in Grand Slam finals history will linger, but at least Nadal knows he's closer than he's been to Djokovic in 13 months.
For Djokovic, the win continues one of the most dominant stretches the sport has ever seen. He'll go for the Djoko Slam (holding all four majors at once) at the French Open. There's even legitimate talk of a real Grand Slam possibility.
But as dawn grew nearer in Melbourne, Djokovic wasn't looking forward.
"We made history tonight," he said after the match.
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