Tennis 'gladiators' continue to set new standards
Every now and again, sport produces a pure contest, a moment of such drama and theatre that it can be hard to think of any other form of entertainment that comes close.
That Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal to win the Australian Open final on Sunday is almost neither here nor there. The event dwarfed the outcome and it was a privilege to witness it.
It wasn't just the quality of the play or the unbelievable rallies which seemed to go on for ever, it was the stamina and energy levels of these two players.
Neither Nadal nor Djokovic were prepared to give way. Each time you thought you could call it, the match swung back the other way.
Nadal seemed to be on his way out at 0-40 down in the fourth set, but he fought back to hold his serve and set up the chance to take it into a fifth after a tie-break.
At the end of one rally in the deciding set, Djokovic lay on the court flat on his back utterly exhausted. By this point, he was into his 11th hour of tennis in 54 hours. And yet he was able to pick himself up and win a match that lasted almost six hours, the longest Grand Slam final in history.
Inevitably, comparisons will be drawn with the 2008 Wimbledon men's final between Nadal and Roger Federer. But trying to compare the two is pointless in some ways.
Nevertheless, what the two matches tell us beyond any question of a doubt is that this is a golden era for men's tennis. No other sport can boast a top four of such quality with such fascinating and engaging characters.
At the start of what we hope will be an incredible sporting year, this epic match has set the bar incredibly high. Euro 2012, Wimbledon, Olympics, Paralympics and Ryder Cup will have to go some to beat this.
For Andy Murray, much of the talk here has been of the instant impact coach Ivan Lendl has made to the British number one's play and temperament. There's none of the gloomy sense of inevitably among the regular tennis correspondents. Instead, there's a sense of optimism that he is making progress.
But the Nadal/Djokovic classic has shown him he will now have to work even harder to get there. Not just with his game but with his stamina. Could Murray really have lasted five sets with either of these two in this sort of form?
It just about bears repeating that it is Murray's misfortune to be born in an age blessed with such a glorious depth of talent. For this is not tennis in the traditional sense.
Rod Laver was one of eight former Australian Open champions on court to witness Sunday's final. Laver must know this is an entirely different sport to the one he played, to the one even played by Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe in the 1980s.
And regardless of Britain's long wait for another champion, it will be interesting to see whether these gladiators inspire a new generation of tennis players in Britain.