It was the longest final in Grand Slam history, the longest one-day match in Grand Slam history, and by the fourth set it resembled more of a 12-round match between heavyweights with steel chins than a tennis match. Except, thanks to Rafael Nadal's brilliant performance in the fourth-set tiebreak, the heavyweights had to go a few more rounds to decide things. Even though Nadal looked like the fitter man, Djokovic played almost error-free despite his exhaustion, saved a break and finished strong, winning his third Australian Open title, and second in a row, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5.
The deciding fifth set was a visualization of what happens when the legs give way to adrenaline. Both men played 100 percent every point, seemingly every step as fast as the first set, only showing the signs of fatigue after points concluded. At one point, Djokovic collapsed onto the court after hitting a ball wide, but got up and managed to take the next point. That was just a snapshot of the effort and exhaustion these two men put forth.
Djokovic fell down a set early, but battled back and stormed ahead up two sets to one, seemingly poised to take the match in four sets, but Nadal, as Patrick McEnroe said afterward, "literally willed himself back in the match." He won the fourth set and broked Djokovic's serve in the fifth to go up 4-2. Djokovic, however, broke him right back and again at 5-5, eventually closing it out after five hours and 53 minutes.
By the match's final moments, Djokovic was kissing the cross around his neck, crossing himself, pleading to his higher power for the strength to continue, and it was granted to him. All hyperbole granted to this match is well deserved. In the last few years, there have been countless titanic tennis matches worth of the Match of the Century designation, but those who woke up early and caught this one were left breathless by the sheer effort these two champions put into it, vaulting it up there with Nadal-Federer at Wimbledon a few years back as the best in tennis' new golden age.
Djokovic has now won four of the last five Grand Slams, and has a chance to be the defending champ at all of them if he can manage to overcome his greatest weakness, and Nadal's greatest strength, on clay at the French Open later this year.