AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2012: Novak Djokovic retains his title after beating Rafael Nadal in final

Ironman Djokovic: Novak defends his crown in longest final ever… after epic Murray semi

At 1.40am, more than six hours after walking on court, one of the world’s most extraordinary athletes chased up the court to meet one last ball and slapped it back for a winner past another of the world’s most extraordinary athletes.

No wonder Novak Djokovic felt moved to do an Incredible Hulk impression moments after winning the Australian Open, ripping apart his shirt and beating his chest once he had commiserated with Rafael Nadal, the man who just cannot find a way past him.

Amid the scenes of hysteria Nadal sloped off to his chair and 10 minutes later, during the dignitaries’ speeches, looked so close to collapse that security had to run on and give him something more solid to sit on than the sagging net he was lolling against.

Sealed with a kiss: Djokovic with the Australian Open trophy

Sealed with a kiss: Djokovic with the Australian Open trophy

Getting shirty: Djokovic rips off his top after winning the final set 7-5 to seal the Aussie title

Getting shirty: Djokovic rips off his top after winning the final set 7-5 to seal the Aussie title

That is what happens when you play
369 points of such intensity in an amazing contest which, after five
hours and 53 minutes, ended with the world No 1 winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-2,
6-7, 7-5.

It was the seventh straight time that
Djokovic has beaten him in a final but Nadal should never reproach
himself for his part in this, the longest Grand Slam final in history
and just a minute shy of the longest match ever played at this
tournament.

What he would inevitably do, however,
was think back to when he was 4-2 and 30-15 up in the decider. A
relatively simple put-away backhand presented itself and he dragged it
wide.

Took your time! The match was the longest ever grand slam final

Took your time! The match was the longest ever grand slam final

As Andy Murray found out in the
semi-final, you have to slam the door shut against the 24-year-old Serb
if you get the slightest chance or he will come back in and make you pay
for it. That is exactly what happened again.

Djokovic will now take the long road
to Paris in the spring with the last three Grand Slams under his belt
and the chance to become the first man since the legend who presented
him with the trophy, Rod Laver, to hold all four of the sport’s biggest
prizes at once.

What he has already done is to
withstand the pressure of defending the title which kicked it all off
for him last year. This is likely to cement his apparent mentality that
he cannot be beaten when it matters most.

Rafael Nadal is dejected after losing to Novak Djokovic

Rafael Nadal is dejected after losing to Novak Djokovic

Heartbreak: Rafael Nadal was disconsolate after losing an epic Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic

Incredible Hulk! Djokovic's celebrations were elaborate after a near six hour final

Incredible Hulk! Djokovic's celebrations were elaborate after a near six hour final

In the stands: Djokovic's girlfriend, Jelena Ristic, was in Melbourne supporting her man

In the stands: Djokovic's girlfriend, Jelena Ristic, was in Melbourne supporting her man

Tennis has been blessed by some
incredible Grand Slam final showpieces in recent years and this will go
down alongside Federer-Nadal at Wimbledon 2008, Federer-Nadal here in
2009 and Federer-Roddick back at SW19 later that year.

In fact, there were long spells of
this match when the quality was nothing exceptional and it was only the
Spaniard’s extraordinary reluctance to give any quarter in the fourth
set that turned it into a classic, as Djokovic threatened to sprint
home.

Nadal said: ‘I was happy with my
mentality, how I played with my heart and my head. During all 2011 I
didn’t play like this. He’s the best player in the world, I have never
played against anyone who can return serve like this.’

Djokovic, for whom this was a fifth
Grand Slam title, described it as his greatest win. ‘I’m proud to have
been part of it. My body was starting to slow down but I knew he
wouldn’t be feeling great. We took the last drop of energy we had from
our bodies. It was outrageous. It could have gone either way. Maybe it
was a matter of luck or of just wanting it a little more.’

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Clean-up job: There was a brief break in play after a brief rain flurry

When he got to 4-3 and 40-0 against
serve in the fourth he should have finished it off, but Nadal fought
back before there was a brief hiatus for rain as the roof was closed.

Clean-up job: There was a brief break in play after a brief rain flurry

Heartbreak: The Spaniard had plenty of support in Melbourne but couldn't hold on

Heartbreak: The Spaniard had plenty of support in Melbourne but couldn't hold on

Heartbreak: The Spaniard had plenty of support in Melbourne but couldn't hold on

He should have shut Nadal out again
from 5-3 up in the ensuing tiebreak, but three forehand errors let his
opponent back in and at 12.26am they started down the long closing
straight. The Spaniard had his chance at 4-2 but was broken back and
could have prolonged matters when he had a break point in the final
game. Djokovic was equal to the challenge every time.

On the stretch: Djokovic stays warm during the break to dry the playing surface

On the stretch: Djokovic stays warm during the break to dry the playing surface

It is perhaps churlish to mention that they were helped by the illegal amount of time both were allowed to take between points.

Ladies' night: Djokovic's girlfriend Jelena Ristic lends her support

Ladies' night: Djokovic's girlfriend Jelena Ristic lends her support

That said, there is no praise high
enough for their skill and competitive spirit and it is going to be
desperately hard for Murray or Federer to crack them open.