MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic ripped off his shirt and let out a primal scream, flexing his torso the way a prize fighter would after a desperate, last-round knockout.
This was the final act in the Serb’s 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 victory over Rafael Nadal on Sunday in the Australian Open final – a 5-hour, 53-minute endurance contest.
Djokovic overcame a break in the fifth set to win his fifth Grand Slam tournament and third in a row. None, though, quite like this. This one involved tears, sweat and, yes, even a little blood. It was the longest Grand Slam singles final in the history of pro tennis and it came against Nadal, the player who built a career on his tenacity – on outlasting opponents in matches like these.
“It was obvious on the court for everybody who has watched the match that both of us, physically, we took the last drop of energy that we had from our bodies,” Djokovic said. “We made history tonight and unfortunately there couldn’t be two winners.”
When the drama was finally over at Rod Laver Arena, the 24-year-old Djokovic joined Laver, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Nadal as the only men who have won three consecutive majors since the Open Era began in 1968. Nadal was his vanquished opponent in all three.
Djokovic will go for the “Nole Slam” at Roland Garros in May.
As the players waited for the trophy presentation, Nadal leaned on the net, while Djokovic sat on his haunches. Eventually, a nearby official took pity and they were given chairs and bottles of water.
Nadal held his composure during the formalities, and even opened his speech with a lighthearted one-liner.
“Good morning, everybody,” he said.
A few minutes earlier, after hugging Nadal at the net, Djokovic headed toward his players’ box, pumping his arms repeatedly as he roared.
“I think it was just the matter of maybe luck in some moments and matter of wanting this more than maybe other player in the certain point,” Djokovic said. “It’s just incredible effort. You’re in pain, you’re suffer(ing). You’re trying to activate your legs. You’re going through so much suffering, your toes are bleeding. Everything is just outrageous, but you’re still enjoying that pain.”
The match was full of long rallies and amazing gets. Djokovic finished with 57 winners, along with 69 unforced errors. Nadal had 44 winners against 71 unforced errors.