Greatest final? Tributes flood in after epic win for Djokovic
Serbian beats Nadal to win the Australian Open after longest Grand Slam final in history
HIS TOES were bleeding and he could hardly move his legs by the end, but after his incredible triumph in the Australian Open final, Novak Djokovic announced that he had been "enjoying the pain" as the longest Grand Slam final ever drew to a remarkable conclusion.
In the end the Serbian somehow outlasted Rafael Nadal to win 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5 in a final that finished at 1.37am, after five hours and 53 minutes of scintillating tennis.
And as the dust settled the plaudits, for both players, began to flood in.
What a heroic effort "On a muggy night in Melbourne, the physicality of the match inspired awe. And, yet, there was not so much as a visit from the trainer to deal with a cramping calf or thigh. That the players were still intact at the end was tribute to their conditioning," marvelled Simon Briggs in The Daily Telegraph.
The longer it went on the better it got, said Paul Higham of Sky Sports noted: "Both men looked out on their feet as they continued to slug it out well into the early hours but if anything the game grew in intensity and quality as it progressed."
"A match that started at 7.30pm like a game of chess finished at 1.37am like a bullfight and it was testament to the quality and drama of the tennis that Rod Laver Arena was still full," said the website Tennishead.
Djokovic himself explained how it felt. "You're going through so much suffering your toes are bleeding. Everything is just outrageous – but you're still enjoying that pain."
Where does it rank? "This has been called a golden era for tennis, but it is a golden era encrusted with diamonds and lined with platinum," says Paul Newman of The Independent. "An age that has produced two of the greatest players of all time in Nadal and Roger Federer, with Djokovic now hot on their heels, has also featured some of the most memorable matches ever played – and this was up with the best of them."
"Only four seasons ago, the tennis world was convinced Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer had set a quality benchmark in the 2008 Wimbledon final that would never be threatened," wrote Leo Schlink of Australia's Herald Sun. "As glorious as that match was, it no longer stands alone."
"Tennis has been blessed by some incredible Grand Slam final showpieces in recent years and this will go down alongside Federer-Nadal at Wimbledon 2008, Federer-Nadal here in 2009 and Federer-Roddick back at SW19 later that year," said Mike Dickson in The Daily Mail.
How good is Djokovic? "Remember when we used to think of Novak Djokovic as a very fine tennis player who had developed a spoiler's tendency to pull out of matches but had a decent line in knockabout antics?" asks Neil Harman in The Times. "Well, look at Novak now.
"Is there a part of a tennis court that he cannot reach? Try to pull him out of position, he rebounds, try to drop the ball short, he covers the ground like a panther, try to thunder down serves and he returns with apparent effortless premium."
He must now be seen as one of the best ever, said BBC tennis commentator Jonathan Overend : "What an effort. Two matches together - the semi-final of four hours 50 minutes and the final of five hours 53 minutes - that's verging on super-human... You have to revisit this whole debate about the greatest players. You talk about Federer, and Nadal joining him after his 10 Slams and overtaking Federer. Now you look at Djokovic."
Plaudits for the loser Djokovic has beaten Nadal on each of the seven times they have met, but this defeat was easier for Nadal to take than the others.
"Just like Andy Murray on Friday night, Nadal was far from despondent after the match," said Briggs in the Telegraph. "The standard of Djokovic's tennis is so high right now that anyone who pushes him to the brink is entitled to feel a sense of achievement even if they cannot quite get over the line."
And in The Guardian, Kevin Mitchell says: "There was little evidence in the closing acts of one of the best Australian Open finals ever that Rafa was Novak's bunny any more. And that is why Nadal leaves Melbourne happier than his wrecked on-court mien suggested after their record five hours and 53 minutes saga."