The match ended at 1:37 AM and is the longest grand slam final in history and it is also the longest match ever at the Australian Open. Nadal becomes the first man in the open era to lose three grand slam finals in a row and they are all to the same person in Djokovic.
The match could be divided into 3 phases: For the first set and bit, Nadal showed some of his aggressive strategy and attacked the Djokovic forehand with some success instead of engaging in a baseline rally where his forehand cross court comes up against the Djokovic backhand. He went up a break at 4-2 only to see Djokovic fight back to lead 4-4. At 5-5, Nadal broke serve and served for the set. A great touch volley got him to two set points and he converted on second with a big serve.
The second phase when Djokovic got back into the match as Nadal retreated back into his shell playing defensive tennis. Novak now went up 5-2 in the second set and served for the set at 5-3. Nadal fought hard and broke serve but lost serve at 4-5 to hand the Serbian the set. The third set was All Djokovic and he won 6-2 and it looked like a painful 4 set loss to Nadal was in the offing.
The third phase was the last two sets where the two players fought like gladiators giving it their all and the match reached epic proportions as both players had their chances to close out the match. Djokovic led two sets to one and at 4-3 had 0-40 on Nadal’s serve. A break there would have meant that Djokovic would have served for the match in the fourth set. But that brought out the best in Nadal- A blistering forehand down the line winner, A big serve, Backhand winner that wrong footed Djokovic. An ace and service winner meant the set was level at 4-4. After a rain delay for 10 minutes, the roof was closed and on resumption the set went to a tie break.
Djokovic led 5-3 in the fourth set tie break but Nadal fought back to win 4 points in a row to take the match into a decider. In the fifth set, Nadal looked the stronger player as Djokovic seemed to flag and he rushed to a 4-2 lead with a break. He led 30-15 and had an easy passing shot to lead 40-15 but just seemed to miss. The Hawk eye showed it missed by a small margin. That point was the difference between victory and defeat for Nadal. He was put under pressure and dropped serve to be level at 4-4. Again he saved break point but at 5-5, Djokovic broke through. Serving for the match, Djokovic led 30-0 but Nadal fought back to gain a break point to level again. However Djokovic saves the break point with a stinging backhand crosscourt. Nadal hit a fierce forehand that hit the tape and dropped out giving Djokovic match point. A big serve got a weak response which Djokovic hit to the open court to wrap up the match.
Nadal who it must be said was not at his best as he made 71 unforced errors in the match; this must be some sort of record for Nadal and this was more than Djokovic as well. This was a heartbreaking loss as it was the seventh in a row but again Rafa Nadal showed the heart of a champion in the way he fought and endeared himself to the crowd again. However the puzzle that is Novak Djokovic continues to be unsolved for Nadal as he tries to arrange the pieces together. Nadal is one step closer and employed some of his offensive strategy at various stages in the match but was not consistent enough through the whole match.
What this match has thrown up is what we have come to know through most of 2011:
1) Nadal cannot out duel this version of Djokovic from the baseline with his weapons at the current level. His topspin shots land too short and give too much time to Djokovic to flatten out his ground strokes forcing the error from Nadal. He must either go on the offensive waiting for the right shot and also attack the net a lot more as his volley is pretty good now.
2) Nadal does not possess a great serve and against Djokovic his second delivery is a weakness that the returner has exploited.
3) Nadal’s return of serve from 3 metres behind the baseline means that there is very less probability of winners or an offensive start to the rally and this gives Djokovic enough time to prepare his ground strokes and unleash his attack.
4) Employ a change up by using drop shots and short slices when Novak is drawn out of court by his serve or deep approach shots.
In the meantime we have to wait for the next few tournaments to see the result this loss has on Rafael Nadal.
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