Djokovic outlasts Nadal in epic Aussie final

Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates after defeating Rafael Nadal of Spain in their men's singles...

Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates after defeating Rafael Nadal of Spain in their men's singles final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 29, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

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, Last Updated: 10:59 AM ET

Novak Djokovic became only the fifth man in the Open Era to win three straight major titles when he outlasted Rafael Nadal in Sunday's marathon final at the 2012 Australian Open. Djokovic and Nadal battled for 5 hours, 53 minutes in a thriller that turned out to be the longest final in Grand Slam history.

The world No. 1 Djokovic came from behind to defeat the second-seeded formerly top-ranked Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5 at Melbourne Park, as both men were visibly exhausted by match's end. Djokovic could barely lift the championship trophy, the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, afterwards.

"We made history tonight and unfortunately there couldn't be two winners," Djokovic said.

The previous long for a Grand Slam final was Mats Wilander's victory over Ivan Lendl at the 1988 U.S. Open, which lasted 4 hours, 54 minutes.

Djokovic is now a repeat Aussie Open champ, having beaten Britain's Andy Murray in last year's finale at Rod Laver Arena. It also marks the super Serb's third Aussie crown in five years, as he also titled here in 2008.

The 24-year-old Djokovic outlasted a fourth-seeded Murray in a brilliant five- set, 4-hour, 50-minute semifinal here on Friday.

Djokovic joined Laver, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Nadal as the only men to win three straight major titles since the start of the Open Era, in 1968. The Serbian slugger has now beaten Nadal in the last three major finals, having also topped the Spaniard in last year's Wimbledon and U.S. Open title tilts.

The powerful Djokovic also became only the fourth man to win four majors in a five-Slam stretch in the Open Era.

Sunday's fifth set was simply a war of attrition between the game's top-two warriors.

Nadal seemed to take control in the final set when he broke Djokovic for a stunning 4-2 lead. But Djokovic fought right back by breaking Nadal, and then consolidated the break with a hold for a 4-4 deadlock.

The final four games seemed to be the fiercest of the match, as both superstars just refused to lose on Day 14.

Djokovic got the biggest break of the match to go up 6-5 and then converted on his first match point in the next game. Nadal set-up that match point by sending a ball off the net cord and out. And a relieved Djokovic finally won with a forehand winner with the clock nearly approaching 2:00 a.m. (local time).

The great Djokovic had almost twice as many service breaks (7-4) as the hard- luck loser Nadal.

"Good morning, everybody," Nadal said, getting laughs and applause from the crowd. "Congratulations to Novak and his team. They deserve it. They are doing something fantastic, so congratulations."

After dropping a tight, sluggish first set for him, Djokovic seemed to take control of the match by prevailing in the second on Sunday.

Nadal broke the Serb and pulled within 4-5 in the second set when Djokovic double-faulted, but Djokovic got the break right back in the next game when Nadal coughed up his second double of the match, giving the set to the Serb.

Djokovic then cruised through the third set, as the Serb even broke Nadal at love to close out the stanza, and appeared on his way to the championship at that point.

But a tight fourth set stayed on serve throughout before Nadal eventually snuck it out via tiebreak. The Spanish strongman converted on his first set point when Djokovic misfired wide with an errant forehand.

Djokovic was four points away from winning the championship in the fourth set, which was interrupted for 10 minutes when the roof at Laver had to be closed because of rain, with things knotted at 4-all. It was the first time the roof had to be closed here during the two-week event.

The amazing Djokovic has now won 39 of his last 41 Grand Slam matches.

The 25-year-old 10-time Grand Slam winner Nadal is still the reigning French Open champ. He captured his lone Aussie Open title here three years ago.

Djokovic has now beaten Nadal in seven straight matches, which included a 6-0 mark in six finals last year.

The supreme Serb is now 5-2 in his career Grand Slam finals and 29-14 overall in his ATP-level title bouts.

Nadal fell to 46-21 in his career finals, including a 10-5 mark in major ones.

The gritty Nadal still owns a 16-14 lifetime advantage against Djokovic and this marked their first-ever Aussie meeting. Nadal is 5-2 in their career Grand Slam tussles.

Djokovic and Nadal have combined to win the last eight major titles.

The high-flying Djokovic's championship check is worth more than $2.4 million and his career prize money now exceeds $35 million, which is good for fourth place on the men's all-time money list. Nadal is second on that list with over $46 million, including his more than $1.2 million windfall from this latest Aussie fortnight. Federer is the all-time leader with just under $68 million.

This was the 100th men's edition of the Aussie Open.


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