Nadal vs Djokovic: The match for the ages

anthcol Roar Rookie

By anthcol, anthcol is a Roar Rookie

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    Tennis, over the past fortnight and especially the past few nights has proven to be a truly gladiatorial sport. After two astounding semi finals Melbourne was treated to one of the best tennis matches if not sporting performances to ever be played here.

    It was a night where sport truly felt like theatre. Too astounding to be unscripted.

    So long was this match it feels like the only tennis I’ve watched over the past fortnight has been Nadal vs Djokovic.

    You live in the moment and think when you see a great match it is the best but this truly was the best match of tennis played in Australia, if not the world.

    The first two sets seem like an eternity ago such was the length of the match.

    Rafa began like a man who had won ten grand slam finals, intense, fast and pulsating was the tennis he played.

    Djokovic did too, playing like the world number one that he is. Nadal won the first set and then lost the second, with Djokovic starting to take the dominant position.

    He pounced on the Spaniard each time he showed one iota of vulnerability.

    If the first and second sets were painted with the same brush as the two semi finals which saw Murray, Federer, Djokovic and Nadal play tight tennis, then the third set was their polar opposite. You don’t often see Rafa Nadal out muscled.

    Crushing opponents with sheer brawn has been the hallmark of his game yet it was Djokovic who forced Nadal onto his heels. Rafa was forced to play defensive, sitting much farther back on the baseline than the Serbian.

    Djokovic did not let up, playing much closer to the baseline and coupling this with precise and powerful hitting he kept Nadal at arms length for most of the night.

    The world number one achieved this through courageously choosing to take the initiative in the match, fearlessly attacking Nadal and disallowing him to dictate the terms of the tussle.

    At the three hour mark of the match (4-1 3rd set) Novak looked to be running on air whilst Nadal looked disheartened and increasingly cumbersome. To that point Rafa had only hit three shots from inside the baseline, an astounding statistic. Djokovic only lost two points in his service games for the set.

    For Rafa to get back into the match he needed a fourth set like his third set in his 2011 US Open Final loss to Djokovic. In that set he somehow turned a similar tide to the one Djokovic had dumped on him in this game.

    Rafa’s aptitude to repeat this was on display in the first game of the fourth set where he pushed the Serb in a triple deuce game. This a huge improvement from the way he dwindled easily during Djokovic’s service games in the third set. He, in a matter of minutes, went from completely submissive and pushed aside to once again competitive and nagging at the heels of the world number one.

    Rafa hung in for the first seven games of the fourth set and Djokovic produced simply incredible tennis to almost break him in the eighth game.

    Djokovic won the first three points to have three break points when Nadal managed to wrestle back all three of them and then hold the game. It was the game of the match that displayed these two amazing players at their best. It was perhaps the game of the tournament.

    At four all the ten-minute rain break came. It was Melbourne’s laughable interlude, like a piece of humor in a Shakespearean play the crowd and players were able to rest and reflect on what had been to that point a masterpiece whilst waiting for the roof to close.

    Djokovic held serve the next game, winning it with an immaculately struck forehand winner down the line from the doubles lines. An enormous amount of pressure was on Nadal, he had to hold to save the tournament from Djokovic’s grasp.

    He did, due to a Djokovic error ,but Nadal made his own luck. His defense in the game was unequivocal, Novak threw everything at the Spaniard.

    The tie breaker ensued, and it was huge. The unthinkable happened and Nadal won the set. No one will ever know how he did it. After the way Djokovic had toyed with him in the third set it was unthinkable Nadal could get back into the match. Remember: he was 5-3 down in the tie-break.

    The fourth set felt like the climax, you sensed Djokovic would win even though Nadal hung in. The fifth immediately had a different feel. The inevitability of the result wasn’t there any more.

    In fact by the time Nadal held serve to go up 3-2 it almost felt like Nadal was the more likely to win. The Serb, who had been so spritely in the third and fourth sets was now lumbering around the court, not getting his body in the correct positions to play his ground strokes to maximum effect.

    Likewise Nadal had stepped up on the court and was playing with the initiative. He was not defending all the time.

    Rafa got break point for the first time in two and a half hours in the sixth game. Djokovic hit the ball long and Nadal won the precious break. It shows how long he had been out of the match for. Up 4-2 Nadal then succumbed to a scrappy Djokovic fight to be broken back.

    Novak got this break in a dogged manner, dissimilar to his previous domination of Nadal which was fluent and powerful.

    He then held serve to make it 4-4. On completion of the game he kissed that cross he wore around his neck.

    The first point of the next game was a 32 point marathon. Djokovic lost the point and fell onto his back, his chest almost bursting, so deep where the breaths he was sucking in.

    Somehow Djokovic found himself with a break point in the game. He had been attempting winners every shot to shorten points. He was playing Russian Roulette tennis. Rafa for the first time in the match served and volleyed and got back the break point to deuce. After one more deuce Nadal managed to hold, it was 5-4 his way.

    Again the tide of the match had changed. It was at 5-5 an even feeling. Nadal broke and it seemed he had the match but Djokovic after being laid on his back literally got up from the canvas and broke back and then held. Rafa, again defended a break point in the eleventh game but after another deuce Djokovic broke after Rafa sliced a ball into the net.

    Djokovic was serving for the match at 6-5 after 5 hours and 46 minutes of play. He had a chance to bring up tournament point but smashed an overhead volley into the net. Nadal deserved it for willing himself to get the lob in.

    Finally he had Championship Point. He converted, and fell onto his back, embraced his combatant Rafa, and then ripped his ripped his shirt open.

    You cant describe this match properly, any attempt would be too clichéd or contrite.

    As I write I cant think of a better sporting battle that has been seen in Melbourne, ever.

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    The Crowd Says (20)

    • January 30th 2012 @ 8:36am
      jamesb said | January 30th 2012 @ 8:36am | ! Report


      well done mate, you have somehow put together an articel early morning when the match finished at 1:35 in the morning

      One point that I thought was interesting and clever from Nadal was he was serving, and than he lost that point, but Nadal challenge his own serve for it to be long, not in, but long, so that he could have a second serve and prevent losing that point.

      That was an interesting tactic. Something I’ve never seen before.

      Once again, well done Novak and Rafa.

      you guys certainly made the womens final look ordinary.

      • February 3rd 2012 @ 1:14am
        d said | February 3rd 2012 @ 1:14am | ! Report

        I don’t see that as clever. it is cheap gamesmanship. like the constant delays and on-court coaching.

    • January 30th 2012 @ 8:46am
      B.A Sports said | January 30th 2012 @ 8:46am | ! Report

      Sounded like an epic finish. I only wish I had been able to watch it to the end. Even better it would have been great if some kids under the age of 12 would have been able to watch it as it may have inspired them.

      Horrible scheduling by Tennis Australia and Channel 7. I get that they want people watching between 7pm-10pm but the people who didn’t see the last 2 hours would have been able to watch between 5-7pm.

      • Roar Pro

        January 30th 2012 @ 9:20am
        Purple Shag said | January 30th 2012 @ 9:20am | ! Report

        Pretty sure they have the US/Euro audience in mind as well. I watched from Sweden and found it fairly ironic that my mates watching back home were all bailing off to bed in the 4th & 5th set but I was just settling in for the afternoon. Still given the amount of time i’ve spent huntched over the laptop at stupid AM watching cricket this year, I guess it was just deserves.

      • January 30th 2012 @ 9:28am
        Matt F said | January 30th 2012 @ 9:28am | ! Report

        Tennis is difficult to schedule because, unlike many other sports, it’s match length can vary considerably. In hindsight, for this particular match, 5pm would have been the ideal start time. If however the score had instead been 6-0 6-2 6-1, a 5pm match would have ended by 7pm and left Ch7 very annoyed. Ultimately the big money comes from TV and Ch7 wanted the primetime guarantee.

        • Roar Rookie

          January 30th 2012 @ 9:55am
          anthcol said | January 30th 2012 @ 9:55am | ! Report

          It is difficult to schedule. Remember it was a 6 hour match. The longest in open history so last night was an abnormality. The fact it finished so late added to the game i think.

          • January 30th 2012 @ 10:34am
            clipper said | January 30th 2012 @ 10:34am | ! Report

            The sponsors and Ch7 would be happy with the extra exposure, and all the extra media will be good for tennis. 1.30am isn’t that late for a one off event – I agree that it adds to the game.

          • January 30th 2012 @ 10:40am
            B.A Sports said | January 30th 2012 @ 10:40am | ! Report

            Even if it had been a four hour match, it is still finishing at 11:30pm.

            We want kids to relate to and embrace the idea of winning a grand slam. The French and Wimbledon are in the middle of the night and the US is invairably on a Monday morning (our time) when kids are at school. How do they do that if they don’t see it?

            Its the old chestnut of TV money vs pleasing your audience, but T.A are putting all of this emphasis on kids programs and getting kids into tennis, and the biggest event on the Australian tennis calendar (the men’s final) is on at an unfriendly time for kids. Even if the Womens final is on a Friday night and the Mens a Saturday night, that would be a little better.

            • January 30th 2012 @ 11:01am
              Matt F said | January 30th 2012 @ 11:01am | ! Report

              Even 4 hours is a very long final. Generally they’d be around 3 hours and 10:30 isn’t too late for a one off event. For example last year’s final only went for for 2 1/2 hours. Maybe they should start it at 6:30 or 7? That way it’s still going to be in prime-time and, barring a freakish anomoly like last night, will end at a very reasonable enough hour.

              As for the TV money vs pleasing the audience, it depends on what can be considered more valuable. Is seeing the best men in the game going at it at a decent hour better for getting the kids involved and junior development, or does the millions more dollars that Ch7 gives to Tennis Australia for having a night final, which they can then put into junior development, better? I can see the benefits of each.

              Seeing the best players going at it would be very good for getting kids interested in the sport, but the money from the TV can ensure that the kids who are in the system get the best possible development. Indeed the extra money could be spent on more promotion to get kids interested.

    • January 30th 2012 @ 10:58am
      Savvas Tzionis said | January 30th 2012 @ 10:58am | ! Report

      I feel there is a sub-conscious wariness (even dislike) for the Serb.

      No one ever talks about what makes him tick? What are his greatest strengths on the court?

      I think people are also slightly uncomfortable with his overt Serbian nationalism and his cultural Christian Orthodoxy.

      • January 30th 2012 @ 11:17am
        B.A Sports said | January 30th 2012 @ 11:17am | ! Report

        I think you have over thunk that one Savvas. The majority of people wouldn’t feel one way or the other about people who are Serbian and even fewer would care or even know he is Christian Orthodox.

        I think last night Rafa probably had more support because he was the under dog, he is very likeable (as is Novak), the ladies seem to think he is good looking and there was probably a few more Spaniards in the crowd.

        It wasn’t that long a ago that Novak had his critics due to is more childish behaviour (he was only a kid) and his apparent in abaility to tough out wins (with numerous retirements when trailing in the heat. I think he has over come those issues now.

        As for the commentry, i think it was pretty 50-50 – from what i saw and if there was more “Raffa” talk, it was because he was the one who had to search for a way to over come his opponent. Novak is the champ, he already does a lot of things right.

        • January 30th 2012 @ 11:21am
          Savvas Tzionis said | January 30th 2012 @ 11:21am | ! Report

          Yeah probably….

          Most of my greek female facebook friends were supporting the ‘good looking spaniard’…. pfft to them (not to Nadal).

          But what are Djokovic’s strength’s?

          I have never seen someone who hits the lines so regularly. He won nearly ALL the challenges!!! incredible accuracy. Can it last?

          • January 30th 2012 @ 1:24pm
            ken fraser said | January 30th 2012 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

            According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine the maximium amount of time the ball is in play in a tennis match on a hard court is between 10% and 15% of the total match time so in a 5 hour match the ball would be in play for between 30 minutes and 45 minutes. A 3 hour match would be between 18 and 27 minutes. Playing tennis raised the players` heart rates to 68-70% of their predicted maximum heart rate. Playing squash and badminton could raise heart rates to 80-85% of the players maximum heart rate which was significantly higher than the values obtained for tennis. The actual skill level of the participants within their chosen sport did not have a significant effect in predicting the physical demands of squash or tennis but was important in predicting the heart rate response of badminton players. Analysis of time spent in actual play revealed that tennis players were involved in play for only 5 of the thirty minutes of game play, compared to 15 and 10 minutes respectively for squash and badminton. I am a squash player. If anyone gets tired playing a 3 to 5 hour tennis match they are just not fit enough. Federer uses so much less energy than Nadal and Djokovic are so awkward probably because they use double handed forehands. They can`t get their swing back far enough using both hands. Don`t get me talking about coaching.

            • January 30th 2012 @ 1:59pm
              Matt F said | January 30th 2012 @ 1:59pm | ! Report

              I’m assuming that you’ve actually played a number of 3-5 hour tennis matches before? That’s a very presumptive statement to make if you haven’t. Unless of course you’re saying that almost every tennis player of all time (let’s be honest here, they’re aren’t too many who haven’t struggled in a 5 set match before) has never been fit……….

            • January 31st 2012 @ 9:49am
              B.A Sports said | January 31st 2012 @ 9:49am | ! Report

              Are the British Journal of Sports Medicine reknonwed for their work? I don’t recall ever hearing of them before.

              I’m not a sports scientist but I can’t think of a sport where two people are exerting themselves at the levels Nadal and Djokovic were for a sustained period las long as the Mens Final on Sunday. The possible exceptions are your extreme sports like Ironman triathlon and maybe the Tour de France, and even then they have period where they just cruise along.

              How did the Britsh Journal of Medicine conduct this stuidy on Tennis? Did they use male or female players, Were they elite players or local club players? what surface did they play on?

      • January 30th 2012 @ 1:35pm
        WoobliesFan said | January 30th 2012 @ 1:35pm | ! Report


        Of course there is……3 civil wars will do that….Serbs are evil people don’t you know……they’ll murder you for a bowl of paprikash and a cevapi…..:P

        This is why I like Djokovic…..he’s winning causes discussions which do lead to his Serbian heritage….and its uncomfortable for those that have been fed 2 decades of Western-Media B.S……what, a Serbian is actually a good guy and number 1 tennis player in the world? How did that happen?….lol

    • Roar Guru

      January 30th 2012 @ 11:16am
      mds1970 said | January 30th 2012 @ 11:16am | ! Report

      Awesome match, an epic for the ages. Great article.

    • January 30th 2012 @ 12:26pm
      Jason Cave said | January 30th 2012 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

      The Australian Open men’s final was a little bit like the first Cricket World Cup Final between Australia and the West Indies at Lord’s in 1975.

      The first ball was bowled at 11:00am (8pm Melbourne time), the last ball wasn’t delivered until 9:00pm (4:00am Melbourne time).

      Same applied to the final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadel-the first ball was hit at 7:45pm (Melbourne time), the last at 2:37am (Melbourne time).

      In fact, the first set went for 80min-which was the length of time to decide the women’s final.

    • January 30th 2012 @ 1:49pm
      Johnno said | January 30th 2012 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

      Maybe they should make the OZ open court a fast court again I liked the faster courts better, the OZ open has become a bit like play. And I prefer green courts to the blue courts to be honest, but now the tour all the courts seem blue I don’t know why.

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