Novak Djokovic defeated Rafael Nadal in a five-set, almost six-hour final to take his third Australian Open title and become the fifth man to win three straight Grand Slam championships since tennis went professional 44 years ago.
Top-ranked Djokovic of Serbia won 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5 at Melbourne Park’s Rod Laver Arena to hand Nadal his third straight loss in a major final. Djokovic also beat the Spaniard at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year.
The five-hour, 53-minute match, which ended at 1:37 a.m. local time, was the longest Grand Slam final since at least the start of tennis’ professional era in 1968. The previous longest was a 4:54 match between Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander in the 1988 U.S. Open final. It was also the longest match at the Australian Open, which was hosting its 100th men’s championship.
“We made history tonight,” Djokovic said at the presentation ceremony. “Unfortunately, there couldn’t be two winners.”
It was the second time in 135 Grand Slam matches that Nadal was beaten after winning the first set. The only other time was against fellow Spaniard David Ferrer at the 2007 U.S. Open.
Djokovic joins Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Nadal as players to have won three Grand Slam titles in a row since the Open era began in 1968. The 24-year-old 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 is worth A$2.3 million ($2.4 million) and 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.
Three Slam Losses
Nadal, 25, is 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.
“Good morning everybody,” Nadal said at the presentation, drawing laughter from the crowd including Laver. “I will never forget this match.”
Djokovic, who won his first Australian Open in 2008, is the fourth man since 1968 to win the title three or more times, joining four-time champions Federer of Switzerland and Andre Agassi of the U.S., and three-time winner Mats Wilander of Sweden.
Djokovic dropped just 10 games in his first three matches this year at Melbourne Park for his best start in 29 straight appearances at the majors. He advanced to the final by outlasting Andy Murray, the No. 4 seed from Britain, in a semifinal three nights ago.
Nadal beat Federer in four sets in the first semifinal on Jan. 26. Djokovic was extended to five sets by Murray a day later in a match lasting 4 hours, 50 minutes.
After defeating Murray, Djokovic told reporters that he’d been suffering from allergy-related problems in Melbourne that have affected his breathing and sapped his energy.
Nadal also has had physical issues. The Spaniard pinched a tendon in his right knee while sitting down 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.
The first set of the final, which included a 10-minute rain delay in the fourth set, lasted 1 hour, 20 minutes -- two minutes shorter than the entire women’s final, in which Victoria Azarenka of Belarus defeated Russian Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-0.
Nadal got the first break for a 3-2 lead, winning a 20-shot rally after three deuces and then taking the game when Djokovic pushed a two-handed backhand long. The Serb broke back and tied the match at 4-4 when Nadal netted a forehand. Nadal took a 6-5 lead when Djokovic lost his serve by hitting a backhand long, and then served out the set.
Djokovic took control of the second set by breaking for a 3-1 lead with a volley right on the baseline. Serving at 5-2 down, Nadal challenged a line call on his own serve after Djokovic hit a winner off his first ball, which had been ruled in. Nadal won the game and then saved two set points on Djokovic’s serve before breaking back for 5-4. His comeback was undone in the next game when a double fault on set point allowed Djokovic to even the match.
The Serb broke for 3-1 in the third set after winning a 20-shot rally. Nadal didn’t hit a forehand winner in the set until the sixth game as Djokovic continued to pin him behind the baseline, winning eight straight points to take a two sets to one lead.
Leading 4-3 in the fourth set, Djokovic earned three break points that Nadal managed to save. With the score 4-4 and match time a minute short of four hours, play was stopped while the roof was closed because of rain. It was the first rain delay of the two-week tournament.
Games went with serve after the resumption 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 and getting back on serve.
Djokovic broke serve 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 in celebration to friends in his player’s box.
“There were two gladiators out there going toe-to-toe,” two-time Grand Slam champion Lleyton Hewitt said in analyzing the match for Australia’s Channel Seven. “It was amazing.”