The final weekend of the Australian Open saw Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka crowned men’s and ladies champions inMelbournePark.
Djokovic was made to work exceptionally hard to claim his third consecutive Grand Slam title after a marathon match with Rafa Nadal. The Serbian emerged victorious after a record breaking 5 hours and 53 minute five set final that showed everything that is great about men’s tennis at present.
The final score of 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5 does not do this match justice with the momentum ebbing and flowing between both competitors but ultimately it was Djokovic who landed the better blows in the final set to claim his third Australian title.
The match continuously brought the crowd to their feet and the exhausted combatants to their knees. It is an overused cliché but this match truly was a heavyweight title bout with each player landing seemingly killer blows throughout only for the other to jump from the canvas with another punch.
For Nadal the defeat will be particularly galling given that this is the third consecutive Grand Slam final he has last to Djokovic. Even so the Spaniard was magnanimous afterwards when he said:
“I think we played a great tennis match,” said the reigning French Open champion. “I enjoyed being part of this match. I am not happy to lose the final but that’s one of the losses that am more happy about in my career.”
The match will be remembered for a lot longer than the actual outcome. It will join the likes of the Bjork, McEnroe Wimbledon tiebreak as a defining moment of an era of incredibly competitive tennis in the men’s game but that will be of little consolation for Nadal as one of the sport’s greatest champions prepares to find a solution to his Serbian problem
The match opened with a tense and error strewn opening set but really came alive in the fourth set when Nadal, having visibly struggled in the previous two sets, sprang into life. Nadal is arguably the most combative player in tennis history and the Majorcan dug deep into his resolve to force a deciding set with a series of blistering winners and tremendous defensive tennis doing enough to claim the 88 minute set, longer than the entire ladies final from yesterday.
Even though the match went on until almost 2am local time there was a full crowd to see the climax of the championships and with Djokovic having been stretched to almost five hours on court in his semi final against Andy Murray it was clear that the Serbian who was once criticised for not having the drive to play through the pain barrier had vanquished not only a great opponent in Nadal but once more shown that the faults of a young player can change as they adapt and what was once a weakness can become a strength.
That was a common theme in both finals with Victoia Azarenka rewriting the scouting report on the Belarusian.
In the past Azarenka’s game was built on pounding groundstrokes and little craft. The 22 year old was all power and little finesse. Over the last two weeks however her game has morphed into a much more complete package.
Her movement was crisp as was her ability to win points at the net. A game that in the past had lacked imagination suddenly saw Azarenka hitting lots of drop shots and aggressive lobs. A lot of the time critics are reluctant to change opinions on players but now it is necessary to look at Azarenka in another light.
Azarenka’s performance in the ladies final has also surely given women’s tennis a tremendous shot in the arm. With her victory the Belarusian has now moved into the coveted number one spot in the work rankings and with the recent criticism of Caroline Wozniacki’s suitability for the lofty ranking the manner of Azarenka’s victory has surely put to bed such criticism of the new number one.
The mental fortitude put on display by Azarenka having dropped 2-0 behind in the opening set spoke volumes for her maturity and confidence; while racking off 12 of the next 13 games spoke of her domination of her opponent.
Before the match it was clear that Azarenka was nervous but her ability to overcome those nerves on the biggest stage to win will have filled her with confidence going forward for the rest of the season.
For Sharapova on the other hand this is clearly a match that the Siberian will want to forget but what of her overall performance inAustralia? Should the Russian look back on a strong run through to the final that once more proved that she has made a full recovery from her shoulder injury? Or will the drubbing in the final, and the fact that she was completely outclassed by Azarenka, now be the defining memory of her opening tournament of 2012?
Sharapova will have the company of some of the games leading lights in thinking that this was potentially a Grand Slam that got away. In the men’s game Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray will all have felt that they were playing well enough to win inMelbourne. In the ladies draw Kim Clijsters would also surely have felt the same.
The development of Sharapova throughout the coming months in the lead up to the French Open is now sure to be one of the bigger stories of the spring season.
For now though the headlines will be dominated by the success of Djokovic and Azarenka. Both are thoroughly deserving champions who played at their best when it mattered most. The future of the game is looking bright and the coming season promises to be one to remember.