Novak Djokovic outlasted Rafael Nadal in the longest Grand Slam final in history to win the Australian Open for a third time.
Djokovic won 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5 to become the fifth man to capture three straight major titles since tennis went professional 44 years ago.
The match at Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena ended at 1:37 a.m. after five hours, 53 minutes. The previous record for a Grand Slam final was a 4-hour, 54-minute contest between Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander at the 1988 U.S. Open. It was also the longest match at the Australian Open, which was hosting its 100th men’s championship. Djokovic said it was the best of his five Grand Slam triumphs.
“This one I think comes out on the top because just the fact that we played almost six hours is incredible,” Djokovic said after thanking reporters for staying late for his press conference. “I’m very proud just to be part of this history.”
The 24-year-old Serb also took the title in Melbourne 12 months ago, sparking a season in which he won 10 tournaments, grabbed the No. 1 ranking from Nadal and secured a season-record $12.6 million in prize money.
The victory, worth A$2.3 million ($2.4 million), extended Djokovic’s winning streak in title matches against Nadal to seven. He last lost to the Spaniard, who had an extra 24 hours to prepare for the final, at the ATP World Tour Finals in 2010. Nadal leads 16-14 in their career matchups.
‘Had My Chances’
“I had my chances against the best player in the world,” Nadal told reporters. “I never put him in this situation during 2011, so that’s another positive thing for me.”
Nadal, 25, was also runner-up to Djokovic at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, making him the first man to lose three straight Grand Slam finals in the Open era. He won his 10th major in June at the French Open, where Federer handed Djokovic his last defeat at one of the sport’s four biggest events in the semifinals.
It was the second time in 135 Grand Slam matches that Nadal lost after winning the first set. The only other occasion was against fellow Spaniard David Ferrer at the 2007 U.S. Open.
Djokovic dropped 10 games in his first three matches this year at Melbourne Park for his best start in 29 straight appearances at the majors.
Nadal beat Federer in four sets in the first semifinal on Jan. 26. Djokovic was taken to five sets by Andy Murray, the No. 4 seed from Britain, a day later in a 4 hour, 50-minute match and later told reporters that he’d been suffering from allergy- related problems in Melbourne that affected his breathing and sapped his energy.
He said it was an “incredible effort” to be able to win over five sets in the final.
“It was obvious on the court for everybody who has watched the match that both of us, physically, we took the last drop of energy that we had from our bodies,” Djokovic said.
Nadal also has had physical issues. The Spaniard pinched a tendon in his right knee on the eve of the tournament and played with his knee taped throughout. He said last month that he plans to take several weeks off after the Australian Open to recover from a nagging shoulder injury.
After the players split the first two sets, Djokovic broke for 3-1 in the third after a 20-shot rally. Nadal didn’t hit a forehand winner in the set until the sixth game as Djokovic pinned him behind the baseline, winning eight straight points to take a two sets to one lead.
Nadal saved three break points while trailing 4-3 in the third set. With the score 4-4 and the match time a minute short of four hours, play was stopped while the roof was closed because of rain.
Games went with serve after the 10-minute delay, the only rain stoppage of the tournament, to set up a tiebreaker, in which Nadal clawed his way back from 5-3 down to take the match into a deciding fifth set.
Nadal converted his first break point in about 2 1/2 hours to take a 4-2 lead in the fifth set. Djokovic immediately responded, breaking back in the next game to get back on serve.
Djokovic broke for a 6-5 lead and got to within two points of the championship at 30-0 before Nadal fought back to break point. Djokovic got the game back to deuce and sealed the victory by winning the next two points off an unforced error and forehand winner.
After collapsing flat on his back, Djokovic got back on his feet, ripped off his shirt, flexed his muscles and yelled to his team in his player’s box. He said he was ready to take the celebrations all through the night.
“I don’t know how far I can go, but right now I’m up for everything,” Djokovic said.
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