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Best Grand Slam & Olympic Matches Of The Year - Nos. 1-2

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Djokovic© Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic prevailed against Andy Murray in just under five hours in a memorable semi-final in Melbourne. reviews the two best Grand Slam matches of the year. 

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2. Novak Djokovic d. Andy Murray, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-1, 7-5, Australian Open Semi-finals
In the 2011 Australian Open final, Novak Djokovic rolled past Andy Murray  6-4, 6-2, 6-3 in two hours and 39 minutes. That triumph marked the start of a remarkable season for the Serb, while Murray - yet to win a set in three major finals - continued to face questions on whether he had what it took to rise to the occasion on the biggest stage.

When the pair met in Melbourne one year later with a place in the championship match on the line, the gap between World No. 1 Djokovic and World No. 4 Murray proved to be much narrower, producing a dramatic four-hour, 50-minute clash filled with a number of shifts in momentum.

As Djokovic described afterwards, “It was so close. Both of us believed that we can win, and that’s how we played. In the decisive moments we were aggressive and wanting to win this match. I think the crowd enjoyed it as much as we did in competing. It could have easily gone the other way. He was couple of points away from winning the match, so I was lucky to go as a winner.”

After Djokovic jumped out to a set and a break lead, Murray - who had gotten off to a 10-0 start to 2012 with coach Ivan Lendl in his box - came back to win the second and third sets. Though he conceded a lopsided fourth set and fell behind 2-5 in the fifth, Murray refused to get discouraged. He broke Djokovic at love in the ninth game, drew level at 5-all, and appeared to have Djokovic on the edge as he created three break point opportunities in the 11th game. But a vintage Djokovic found his last bit of energy to deny Murray and pulled through with a break in the following game, falling onto his back with arms stretched overhead to celebrate his triumph.

Despite the loss, Murray gained confidence from his performance that night. “I think there’s a very fine line between being No. 1 in the world and being 3 or 4. I think that gap, I feel tonight I closed it,” said the Scot, who would go on to defeat Djokovic eight months later in the US Open final. “My job over the next two or three months is to surpass him and the guys in front of me. It’ll take a lot of hard work, and hopefully I can do it.”

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Djokovic1. Novak Djokovic d. Rafael Nadal, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5, Australian Open Final
‘Epic’ was widely used to describe Novak Djokovic’s win over Andy Murray in the semi-finals, but may best have been saved for the match to come two days later when the defending champion and Rafael Nadal battled tooth and nail in the longest Grand Slam final on record. The five-hour, 53-minute match, which began with the coin toss at 7:30pm and wrapped up at 1:37am, left both players so spent that they were provided with chairs after struggling to stand during the trophy ceremony.

Going into their third straight meeting in a Grand Slam final, a big question was how Djokovic would recover from his five-setter against Murray. While Nadal’s semi-final match was no walk in the park - he had defeated Roger Federer in four sets - the Spaniard had had an extra day to rest with his match played Thursday night.

Djokovic, who had won the first two sets against Nadal in the Wimbledon and US Open finals, found himself under pressure early on as the Spaniard adopted aggressive tactics to secure the first set after 80 minutes of play. But questions about his condition were quickly put aside, as the Serb found his rhythm to win the next two sets. He held triple break point chance at 3-4 in the fourth, only to see Nadal reel off five straight points before rain temporarily halted play. When they resumed under the roof at Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic missed an opportunity to set up three championship points in the tie-break.

Nadal promptly seized the momentum to send the match to a decisive set and broke for a 4-2 lead. A costly error at 30/15 in the following game, when he missed an easy backhand down the line, proved to be the turning point. Two errors later, Djokovic was back on serve. He broke for a second time to go up 6-5 and faced down a break point in the final game before putting away a forehand winner on championship point.

Djokovic acknowledged that the length of the final made it the greatest match of his career, adding, “We live for these matches. We work every day. We’re trying to dedicate all our life to this sport to come to the situation where we play a six-hour match for a Grand Slam title.”

“Physically it was the toughest match I ever played,” admitted Nadal, who had previously held the record for the longest match at the Australian Open with his five-hour, 14-minute victory over Fernando Verdasco in the 2009 semi-finals. “I think we played a great tennis match. It was, I think, a very good show. I enjoyed being part of this event and this match.”

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