Rafael Nadal Loses To Novak Djokovic: Backhand Error Proved To Be Turning Point
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- The turning point in the longest men's final ever at a Grand Slam came when 10-time major winner Rafael Nadal went for a bit too much on a backhand after more than 5 hours on court.
Novak Djokovic outlasted Nadal in 5 hours, 53 minutes to win a third Australian Open title, finishing off the 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 win at 1:37 a.m. on Monday.
But it could have been so different.
At 30-15 in the seventh game of the fifth set, the top-ranked Djokovic was almost exhausted and didn't even try to continue the point when Nadal lined up a backhand with the court wide open, and skewed it slightly wide down the line.
Nobody could quite believe it — Nadal challenged the out call, but really only to regroup his thoughts. Instead of moving ahead 40-15, one point away from a 5-2 lead in the fifth set, the score became 30-30. Djokovic won the next two points and regained the momentum.
"It's true I had big mistake with 30-15," Nadal said. "But it's not moment to think about that. That's another just moment in an almost six hours match. Forget about that knowing that I really had real, very real chances to have the title and to win against a player who I lost (to) six times last year.
"But I didn't. I never put him in this situation during 2011, all 2011, so that's another positive thing for me."
Nadal has now lost seven straight finals to Djokovic, including the last three majors. No other man has lost the finals at three consecutive majors. Nadal didn't see Sunday's loss as a negative.
"I didn't have mental problems today against him," Nadal said. "I had in 2011 all these mental problems. Today I didn't have. I compete with normal conditions against him, no?
"So that's another positive thing. Probably never say that many positive things after I lose."
Nadal came to the Australian Open in 2011 aiming for a "Rafa Slam" after winning the French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles in 2010. He was eliminated in the quarterfinals. At the French Open, Djokovic has the chance to win four consecutive majors, something no man has done since Rod Laver completed the Grand Slam in 1969.
ANOTHER EPIC: Nearly four years ago, Nadal was on the winning end of another epic major final — a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7 victory over Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2008.
He says he ranks his five-set loss to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final on Sunday alongside that Wimbledon match as two of the most memorable he has ever played.
Nadal came up short against Djokovic 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in a nearly 6-hour contest at Melbourne Park that didn't finish until early Monday morning.
It evoked memories of his Wimbledon final against Federer, which was equally dramatic and tense, though not nearly as long. The Spaniard finished off Federer in a paltry 4 hours, 48 minutes.
"For me it was a little bit more special, the 2008 (Wimbledon final)," Nadal said with a smile at his post-match news conference. "But I really understand that (tonight) was a really special match, and probably a match that gonna be in my mind not because I lost, no, because the way that we played.
"That means that I did a lot of things well to compete against best players of the world and winning on them, losing on them, but always having tough matches. And final 2008 Wimbledon and this one was very special."
Just because it was special, though, doesn't mean Nadal wants to ever sit through it again. When asked if he'd ever watch the match on video, he replied: "Too long. Highlights only."
DOUBLES TROUBLE: To hear Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek lavish praise on one another after winning the Australian Open men's doubles title on Saturday night, it's hard to believe they've only played together four times.
Paes and Stepanek defeated American brothers Mike and Bob Bryan 7-6 (1), 6-2 to win the title — the seventh Grand Slam trophy for the Indian doubles specialist, and the first for the Czech player.
The duo first teamed up at Delray Beach in 2004, where they made off with the title. They played together two years later in Rome, and then not again until partnering up for an Australian Open tuneup event in Sydney earlier this month.
Stepanek said after Saturday's match that they were supposed to play together in 2005, but he called it off so he could focus on his singles game.
"I had to pick up the phone and tell Lee honestly that, you know, my whole career, whole life I worked on my singles, and I wanted to, you know, give myself a shot," he said.
When asked whether Paes was angry, Stepanek deadpanned: "I believe inside he got very mad."
Seven years and one Grand Slam trophy later, there are no hard feelings. In fact, the two couldn't stop rhapsodizing about one another's talents at their lengthy post-match news conference.
"This guy's legs are as fast as mine, if not faster," said Paes, who lost in the mixed doubles final with Elena Vesnina on Sunday. "He can jump higher than me. I'm not a bad athlete, but this guy is a super agent."
The feeling of adoration is apparently mutual.
"I'm listening like a 5-year-old kid to his idol," Stepanek said. "I saw in his eyes that his eyes are eating every word of mine. I felt the respect that's what, you know, what are you giving from the heart."
Associated Press writer Justin Bergman contributed to this report.