Novak Djokovic dug deep, and so did Rafael Nadal. As of 2012, as it was true for all of their six meetings in 2011, Djokovic just has more in his reserves. He won his fifth Grand Slam title and his third in Melbourne, beating Rafael Nadal in five sets, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5 .
Roger Federer and Andy Murray were left behind and two best players in the world stood toe to toe once again. The epic game, one of the greatest finals the Australian Open has ever seen, proved once again that despite the doubts surrounding Djokovic’s ability to recreate his 2011 magic, the Serb phenom simply doesn’t care.
Nadal wasn’t destroyed like at Wimbledon or the US Open. He opened with a convincing first set, but very soon, everything that appeared in his nightmares came back. Only this time Nadal showed his resiliency, the passion that was rumored to be lost and that extra gear to take the fourth set after a long rain delay.
If Djokovic looked physically weak early in the match, probably due to the shorter rest he got after a Marathon-like Semi Final against Andy Murray, the tide turned in the fifth. Nadal slowed down after a 4-2 lead, and is probably still lamenting not challenging a shot called out, while it looked in from every angle. It’s simplistic to say it cost him the match, but that point felt like the momentum changer.
From then on? Djokovic won his games easily, while Nadal struggled to keep his serve, getting broken again at 5-5 and pretty much giving up on the match point. For the seventh time in a row between the top two players in the world, the closing moments showed us, clearly, who is the best tennis player in the world.
Nadal will now be heading into a break, probably until Indian Wells, maybe longer, to take care of his shoulder injury. He didn’t look injured, while Djokovic did his usual exaggerations when needed, in a match between two players who love to slow down play. Still, lets just hope Nadal didn’t cause himself some long term damage by taking on the risk of playing the tournament injured, impressing all the way through.
This win doesn’t look like the crushing morale blows that the 2011 finals had, but Djokovic showed that you can never take your foot off the gas against him. The mental and physical reserves he carries with him make him unbeatable, even when he strides from patchy stretches of inconsistent shot making.
Eventually, his ability to return everything Nadal threw at him, turning defense into offense and making Rafael Nadal uncomfortable and look desperate, something only he can do against the 10 time Grand Slam winner. Early season form, or late 2011 form doesn’t matter. Djokovic just takes it up to another level whenever he needed to during the final two games of the Australian Open, and right now, no one can touch him up there.
For Nadal, and in a certain degree with Federer and Murray, although for a bit different reasons, it’s a question now of mental strength and coping with the frustration. Seeing Novak Djokovic look this good in another final, winning his 21st consecutive Grand Slam match, taking home the fourth grand slam title out of the last five tournaments, the intimidation factor, which is working wonders for Djokovic when facing Nadal, has to be in effect.
Question is – Can Rafael Nadal, the second best player in the world, cope with the seemingly impossible roadblock on his road and attempts in the chase for Federer’s spot with 16 Grand Slams, or is this truly the continuation of Djokovic’s dominance, making it his era?