Tennis Elbow: One for the ages
January 30, 2012 · Print This Article
Welcome to Tennis Elbow, a new column that will look back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon examines the stellar Australian Open men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, and how the result might shape this 2012 season.
It was a fairly routine shot–except that no shot is routine after almost six hours of play. The short ball bounced near the service line and just about begged current alpha male Novak Djokovic to attack to one side or another of the court. He did just that, hitting the ball toward left-handed Rafael Nadal’s forehand–but for what was probably the first time in hours, Nadal didn’t move.
“I’ll keep fighting,” Nadal later told the crowd after the match–and it’s never been as true as it was during this match. But at that particular moment after the Djokovic forehand, Nadal didn’t chase. He couldn’t fight anymore.
Game, set, match. Djokovic fell on his back, ecstatic or tired–probably both. After 5:53 of play, the final tally was in–57 winners for the Serb to 44 for the Spaniard, and 69 unforced errors by Djokovic to 71 by Nadal. Finally at 1:37 a.m. local time, Djokovic had won his third Australian Open title and fifth Grand Slam title overall. This was also a seventh win in a row by the current No. 1 player in the world over Nadal, this time in an epic 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5) and 7-5 match.
This match was a grueling battle, one that the tennis pundits will never forget. And it might turn Nadal and Djokovic–whose relationship was always more respect than friendship–into good friends off the courts in the same way that a five-set match at Wimbledon in 2010 brought John Isner and Nicolas Mahut closer.
In defeat, Nadal was gracious and managed a joke as he wished a “good morning” to the crowd when he spoke during the trophy presentation. The Spaniard did answer a few of his critics, as he was more aggressive and less predictable in this match than he had been against Djokovic in 2011. Today, Nadal is surely drained emotionally and physically after this defeat, but he can take solace in the fact that he came as close as possible to winning without actually doing so. He’ll have nightmares of a missed backhand down the line when he served at 4-2 in the fifth set, but he knows that he’s this close to solving the Djokovic riddle. He’ll keep fighting.
This Australian Open makes it three Gland Slam wins in a row for Djokovic, making him the fifth man to do so since the Open era began in 1968. This latest match against Nadal was a war of attrition and a lesson in grit, heart, and dedication. Remember, it wasn’t long ago (i.e. against Andy Roddick at the 2009 Australian Open) that Djokovic was said to be unfit to withstand extreme playing conditions. Contrast that with 2012, when he spent about 11 hours on the court in beating Andy Murray and Nadal and captured the Aussie title.
In 2012, Djokovic may or may not repeat the stellar winning percentage of his 2011 season (i.e. it’s unlikely), but ultimately success is measured in Grand Slam titles won. Next up is Roland Garros at the end of May, and three milestones will be in play for Djokovic. A win would give him a fourth Grand Slam title in a row–the No-Djoke Slam seems like the consensus moniker–and more importantly, make him the defending champion of all four major tournaments at once. That’s not all–the Roland Garros title would complete the career Grand Slam for Djokovic. More importantly, it would also keep alive his bid for the Grand Slam, last accomplished in 1969 by one Rod Laver. Nadal, the winner of six of the past 7 Roland Garros titles, might have a thing or two to say about that.
As for the rest of us, this match showed one thing, and one thing only–we’re all just living in Djokovic’s world, and never has it been more obvious than during this Australian Open. Never has it been more delightful, either–I watched the match live from about 3:30 to 9:30 a.m. in Toronto, and never has not sleeping felt so energizing.