12/8/12 7:52 PM | Ricky Dimon
Tennistalk's countdown of 2012's Top 10 matches concludes with the Match of the Year. It was another epic installment of the Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal rivalry, this time in the Australian Open title match.
1. Novak Djokovic d. Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 - Australian Open final
It was longest Grand Slam final in the history of tennis, the seventh longest match in the history of men's singles, and the longest match in the history of the Australian Open. The 2012 Melbourne final waged between the top two players in the world lasted five hours and 53 minutes, with Djokovic surviving Nadal to capture his third Australian Open title--fifth major triumph overall. Djokovic struck a clinching, inside-out forehand winner to end the proceedings at 1:37 in the morning on Monday.
The back-and-forth thriller saw Nadal take the first set before Djokovic surged in front to lead two sets to one following a dominant performance in the third frame. From there, both men had chances to seal the deal in slightly quicker fashion; in Djokovic's case, much quicker. Nadal trailed 0-40 at 3-4 in the fourth, dug out of it to hold, but twice had to serve to stay in the championship at 4-5 and 5-6. Without any visible nerves, the Spaniard took care of those service games with ease, forced a tiebreaker, and took it seven points to five.
Nadal's golden opportunity came with a 4-2 fifth-set advantage already in hand. His ensuing gaffe won't live in infamy quite like Andy Roddick's missed backhand volley against Roger Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final, but it was easily the costliest unforced error in all of 2012. Having run Djokovic ragged at 30-15, Nadal had a wide-open backhand to end the point. What appeared to be a sure 40-15 lead morphed into a 30-all deadlock when he pushed the backhand just wide, and Djokovic broke serve two points later.
That proved to the final, cruel momentum swing. Djokovic held comfortably at 4-5, seized another break in the 11th game, then fought off one break point at 6-5 with a punishing backhand. At long last, he converted championship point at ad-in thanks to the final forehand.
"I think we played a great tennis match," Nadal assured. "It was, I think, a very good show. I enjoyed being part of this event and this match. I really understand that was a really special match, and probably a match that gonna be in my mind not because I lost, no, (but) because the way that we played. I wanted to win, but I am happy about how I did. Physically was the toughest match I ever played. I am tired."
"Right now, yes," Djokovic said when asked if this was the best win of his life. "This one I think comes out on the top because just the fact that we played almost six hours is incredible. Incredible. I think it's probably the longest finals in the history of all Grand Slams, and just to hear that fact is making me cry, really. We live for these matches. We're trying to dedicate all our life to this sport to come to the situation where we play six-hour match for a Grand Slam title.
"Unfortunately there had to only be one winner because we both gave it all. We both put 100 percent of our abilities on the court and played to the last moment. Unfortunately there couldn't be two winners, but he definitely deserved to be a winner as well tonight."
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