AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2012
How The Australian Open Final Was Won
by James Buddell|
Top seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic won his fifth Grand Slam championship title with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 victory over second seed and 2009 titlist Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final on Sunday.
It was the pair's 30th meeting and the longest in the tournament's history. Here is a set-by-set breakdown of the final, which lasted five hours and 53 minutes.
Nadal, in his 15th major final, adopted aggressive tactics right from the start in the pair's 16th hard-court meeting. Having added a few grams of lead tape to the top of his racquet at the start of the 2012 season, the Spaniard's serve had extra pop, which kept Djokovic on the defensive in the early stages.
Djokovic came under pressure for the first time in the fifth game when he saved one break point after Nadal hit a backhand return long off a second serve. Standing well behind the baseline on return of serve, Nadal was able to take his backhand out of play and use his forehand to attack loose serves. On Nadal's second break point opportunity, Djokovic gifted his opponent a 3-2 lead by hitting a backhand approach long. The next game became a mental battle, which Nadal eventually came through - saving one break point in the process. It had been 12 minutes of absorbing tennis.
The momentum switched to Djokovic over the next two games, when the Serbian fought back to 4-4. In a nine-minute eighth game, Djokovic started to hit a better length ball and controlled rallies from the middle of the court. Two loose forehands from Nadal handed Djokovic the game on his third break point chance. Djokovic won his third game in a row by recovering from 0/30 to win four straight points. Nadal could have set up three break point chances at 0/40, but a forehand down the line - at 0/30 - hit the net cord and Djokovic was able to snap back a backhand that found Nadal off-balance
Nadal went on the offensive. At 5-5, Djokovic continued to pinpoint Nadal's backhand, but Nadal was able to turn defence into attack by hitting through his backhand. From 30/15, Djokovic lost three straight points. Nadal celebrated with a fist pump and, in his next service game, held two set points at 40/15. Djokovic saved one set point by hitting a backhand return winner down the line, then forced Nadal into a forehand error off a short rally. Nadal regained his composure and clinched the first set in 80 minutes, when Djokovic hit a return long.
Nadal had hit 76 per cent of his first serves into court, striking two aces and 15 winners. Djokovic was at 51 per cent on first serve, with 19 unforced errors - two more than Nadal.
Though Djokovic failed to convert two break point opportunities in the second game - thanks to Nadal's ingenuity in baseline rallies - the defending champion made Nadal pay for two forehand errors at 2-1. At 30/40, Nadal ripped a backhand crosscourt stroke to Djokovic's feet at the net. Djokovic picked it off his feet and volleyed deep to leave no chance of retrieving it. Djokovic, now with his game face on, took a 4-1 lead after a hold to 30.
By flattening out his forehand, Djokovic had found his range on serve, thus giving Nadal very little time to recover. He was no longer giving Nadal free points as he started to return as well as he had done all tournament. By contrast, Nadal - with his racquets strung at 25 kilograms (55 lbs) - was no longer attacking. Retreating well behind the baseline, he was unable to hit winners.
Nadal saved one set point at 2-5, advantage, with a powerful forehand that Djokovic sliced long. Minutes later, Djokovic took a 40/15 lead on serve with an exceptional forehand volley off an attempted pass. But Nadal saved both set points with nerveless groundstroke winners, then created one break point opportunity with a forehand volley winner. Djokovic went onto double fault to gift Nadal the game. At 4-5, they were back on serve.
Nadal had game point for 5-5 at 40/30, but then became negative and played well behind the baseline. Nadal misjudged a forehand approach at deuce, which Djokovic guessed correctly and struck a backhand pass down the line. Nadal then double faulted to give Djokovic the 66-minute set. Djokovic had hit 12 aces and as many unforced errors in the set.
Nadal came through a 12-point opening game, having initially served for it at 40/15. But Nadal then started to win points from Djokovic errors, rather than hitting his own winners. Djokovic, who is considered one of the sport's great service returners, grew in confidence and won three straight points from 15/30 on Nadal's serve to break the Spaniard for a 3-1 lead.
Playing at a high level, Djokovic was dominating from the baseline and gave Nadal little chance of clawing his way back into the set. Peppering Nadal's backhand on first serve, with the occasional flatter delivery down the middle on the deuce court, Djokovic kept Nadal on the back foot. He broke Nadal to love at 2-5, hitting a forehand winner into space to wrap up the 45-minute set.
Djokovic had been almost unplayable. He had hit 11 winners to just two for Nadal and committed just seven unforced errors in the set. He won all six of his points at the net, with 72 per cent of first serves into court. Nadal, who normally conceals his emotions, had become animated and his glances up to his coach, Uncle Toni, frequent. Both hoped Djokovic's level would drop. Nadal had hit just three groundstrokes inside the baseline during the set.
In a 10-minute first game, a mini contest, Djokovic survived by converting his fourth game point opportunity with a kicked serve into Nadal's forehand. Nadal had begun to take chances, stepping inside the baseline and into Djokovic's groundstrokes to take the ball on the rise. It was a tactic that threatened Djokovic's dominance and kept spectators on the edge of their seats.
Despite getting three first serves into court, Nadal found himself serving at 3-4, 0/40. He saved all three break points - the first, with a forehand winner behind Djokovic; the second with an unreturned serve and the third, with a forehand down the line behind Djokovic. He won five straight points for 4-4 and the capacity crowd rose to its feet.
Incredibly, the heavens then opened and play was suspended at 11:44 a.m. local time. The Rod Laver Arena's roof began to close, while approximately 40 balls kids and volunteers got on their hands and knees to dry the court with towels. Both players left the court. Mentally, it played into Nadal's hands. For the first time ever, the men's Australian Open final would be played under a roof.
At 11:53 a.m. the final resumed and Djokovic soon wrapped up a love service hold for a 5-4 lead. Nadal kept moving forwards and attacking his groundstrokes and took the set to an inevitable tie-break.
Nadal gained a mini break at 3-2, but the advantage was immediately swallowed up when he hit a forehand that hit the net and landed out. Djokovic continued to find his mark on first serve and took a 5-3 lead with a booming forehand down the line that Nadal's defence couldn't resist. Djokovic could have set up three championship points, but mis-timed a forehand down the line to get the tie-break back on serve at 5-4. He then hit a forehand approach into the net. Nadal cracked a big first serve out wide for 6-5 and set point, which he converted with a Djokovic forehand error.
The fourth set stats indicated there was little to choose between the finalists. Eleven winners each, 17 unforced errors for Nadal to 18 for Djokovic. The set had lasted 88 minutes.
Midway through the fifth set, the final became the longest title match in the Grand Slam championship's history beating the 1988 battle, which Mats Wilander won over Pat Cash 6-3, 6-7(3), 3-6, 6-1, 8-6. The match, well beyond the five-hour mark, had the feel of two boxers throwing their last blows, with the fitter of the two prevailing.
At 2-3, Djokovic fell to 30/40 and hit a forehand long off a short rally to give Nadal the break. Could Djokovic, who beat Andy Murray in five sets in the semi-finals, summon one last super-human effort and fight back?
Nadal should have closed the door on Djokovic's challenge at 4-2, 30/15, but he missed a backhand down the line that Hawk-Eye proved landed out. Two straight errors gave Djokovic the break and the decider was back on serve. Nadal walked to his chair shaking his head. Djokovic went onto level for 4-4.
After the first point in the ninth game of the set, a 31-stroke rally, Djokovic dropped to the floor having hit a backhand long. The crowd rose to their feet. Nadal moved to 30-0, but then costly mistakes handed Djokovic a break point opportunity. Nadal serve and volleyed for the first time in the match, slicing out wide for deuce. He went onto clinch a 10-minute game for a 5-4 lead.
The battle intensified at 5-5. Nadal saved one break point with a big forehand that Djokovic ran to and sliced out. At deuce, a spectator called "out" on a Djokovic groundstroke. Nadal lost his concentration and hit a forehand wide. It gave Djokovic a second break point opportunity, which he won when Nadal sliced a backhand into the net.
After the change of ends, Djokovic, calmly, took a 30-0 lead. But Nadal made one final effort. He won three points in a row to set up one break point chance. Djokovic recovered to deuce with a backhand crosscourt stroke that Nadal couldn't scramble back. Another net cord off a Nadal backhand, which landed wide, gave Djokovic championship point. He took it. Hitting a serve down the middle, Djokovic approached the net for a forehand winner into space to clinch his fifth Grand Slam championship title. He fell to the ground in celebration after five hours and 53 minutes of enthralling tennis. It was his seventh straight win over Nadal in a final.