After a brutal five-set match that went 5 hours and 53 minutes, Djokovic defeated Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5 for his fifth Grand Slam title. Djokovic is now a 3-time winner at the Oz Open, which accounts for over half of his Grand Slam trophy haul. In the history books, Fed will be listed as the king of Wimby and Rafa the king at Roland Garros. The US Open has a long historic tradition of its own. Perhaps it’s only fitting that the decidedly modern Oz Open is where Djokovic is staking his claim (though at this time, he still fall short of Fed’s 4 titles at the Oz Open).
As a sign of the changing times, Novak introduces novel celebration methods, including tearing off his shirt and beckoning the crowd to cheer for him. Whether or not you approve of said behavior (I do not), it should not detract from the incredible tennis he played and his mental strengths. He’s different, for better and worse.
The marks of the 6-hour battle showed on both players’ faces and body posture. Rafa had to sit on the net during the awards ceremony — that’s how fatigued he was. Both players appeared to be cramping, at which point a tournament official finally brought out chairs for the two finalists to be seated during the ceremony.
Both players put on an impressive display of grit and fitness that wore each other down. While detractors may point to the lack of variety (or rather, the lack of net play) at this final, that should not take away from the hearty fight both players brought to the match.
It wasn’t always a pretty match — there were a series of errors at the start, combined with nervous errors from both. In the 2nd set, Novak gave up BP on a double-fault. In the next game, Rafa gave up BP and the 2nd set on a DF. Novak served for the championship in the 4th set, only to be broken by Rafa, who forced and won the TB (after going up a mini-break, only to be mini-broken-back, but then winning the TB/4th set anyway). The 5th set was destined to be a tense, dramatic affair.
In terms of drama and emotions, this final easily eclipsed all other matches at this year’s Oz Open. It’s easily among the top 5 matches Rafa has played in his career. Same for Novak too. Rafa will rue his missed chances, especially with his mistake on the passing shot when he was up 4-2 in the 5th set. On the bright side, Rafa gave Novak a full fight in this match. While Rafa did look lost at times — making shot selections and missing overhead smashes that revealed his mental state (how many times have we seen that before in other players?) — he also had the presence of mind to stop the bleeding of points. If it’s any consolation, it was as close a finish as Rafa could have hoped for.
Much in the same way that Murray’s defeat to Novak didn’t seem soul-crushing, Rafa’s loss to Novak still leaves room for hope that he will eventually overturn his recent 0-7 win-loss record to Novak (the overall record still stands at 16-14). Both players will take a deserved break from tennis after the Oz Open. It’s still only January — there’s plenty of tennis to be played this year.
If there’s one trend that only reinforced itself at this Oz Open, it’s the gap between the top 4 players and the rest. Despite Murray’s fabled shortcomings against Fed/Rafa/Djokovic, he is still a cut above the others. Outside of the top 4, I’m hard-pressed to think of one player who could seriously challenge the top 4. As much as that displeases me, it seems to be the accurate description. Hopefully, this won’t be the case for the rest of the year.