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Tennis 'gladiators' continue to set new standards

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David Bond | 12:23 UK time, Monday, 30 January 2012


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.

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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.


  • Comment number 1.

    As great as it is that we are "blessed" with these players playing at the same time, is it not becoming a little tiresome that they all sweep aside the rest of the pack and then flip a coin to see who wins from the semis onwards?

    It's about time the seeding system was scrapped - let's see these guys play each other earlier on in the tournament for some real drama!

  • Comment number 2.

    "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"

    How is that a good thing? This is sport, don't forget. Since when, in sport, did it not matter who wins?! The formulaic nature of tennis has become tedious - all four slams are exactly the same now, with the same four semi-finalists. Yawn...

  • Comment number 3.

    Firstly I have to agree that it was an amazing and stunning match of tennis, possibility the greatest ever played.

    I don't quite agree that the result and whoever won was neither here nor there, Nadal was fighting for his life and to return to past glories but always looked a bit short whereas Djorkovik as in his recent conquests plays like he will just not be beaten - he is like a genuine gladiator and is absolutely fantastic player with such strenght, so few errors and brutal play he just grinds the opposition down.

    So by winning yet again Djorkovik retains his almost invincible current status. As for Nadal defeat must have been so depressing, even though he put on a good face.

    Novak - you are one heck of a person and player, maybe the best ever?

  • Comment number 4.

    'It's about time the seeding system was scrapped - let's see these guys play each other earlier on in the tournament for some real drama!'

    Was yesterday's match not dramatic enough for you? How would having the best players out there playing in the first round be better for the sport? In all the years of watching many different sports, the best i have seen are probably tennis matches from the past 6 or 7 years

  • Comment number 5.

    meredith hunter: Totally agree with you. I did'nt think the other comment was worth replying to... The whole point of seeding is to bring the best players together in the final stages and to see if anyone can take them out on the journey, as they often have done in the past. We have four fantastic players all in one era right now, very tough on Andy Murray of course but he just has to get better, lets hope he can.

  • Comment number 6.

    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.

    sorry of course you media types would love to have Murray up there but lets be honest lendl was a bit of a choker in matches, and murray is only good enough to have been a runner up in 3 slams. He has already reached his peak and he should be happy with that as who can really see him really taking on Nole, Nadal and Fed?

  • Comment number 7.

    That was meathead tennis, just 2 guys standing at the back of the court walloping the ball as hard as possible. Absolutely no subtlety or imagination in the whole match.

  • Comment number 8.

    Folks please ... yawn?? What about the Premier League - the same bloated egos and money buying success - this was sport in its purest form 'mano e mano'.

    Yes, the quality may not have quite been there in the first three sets, but the drama throughout was awesome. I still think, for quality, Fed v Nadal at Wimbledon 08 (and even their rematch here in 09) was better; but I can't remember a match where the superlatives truly ran out.

    As for Murray, the jury is still out. He always seems to do well in Australia, but he did seem more willing to take it on against Djokovic which is surely the way to go. I hope he gets a chance to play Fed or Nadal in future - if he runs up against Djokovic again, it could be like last year when he kept losing to Nadal ... which then soon becomes a habit.

    So hats off Djokovic and Nadal, but come on Andy and Rog!!

  • Comment number 9.

    The men's final was an awesome display of mental and physical skill and courage - many sports - not least football must envy tennis the quality of our champions - and they manage to to be pretty gracious in defeat and victory as well!

    What interests me though, is we are seeing a massive change in the way men's tennis is being played at this level. Because almost every attacking shot risks opening up the court, the tactical decision to attack is delayed, creating these prolonged, punishing rallies. These guys are so superfit and strong they will reach 99% of any ball from any position on the court, and with the court opened up the attacker risks his ball being returned with interest. Of the four, Murray delays his attack decision longest - often waiting for an opponenet error - even just a slightly shorter ball will do, whilst Federer still mainly backs his atacking game - but even he is more cautious than he was - at least outdoors and on slower courts. As these tactical matches extend and the players begin to tire, the risk of a pacy ball being reached and attacked reduces and so the attacking shots increase - although so do the errors. I find it increasingly fascinating to watch who is making what tactical and strategic choices. I wonder who will be first to attack off a good sliced backhand - nobody so far.

  • Comment number 10.

    I really can't believe that there are negative comments about yesterday. How can anyone attach any critisicim to one of the most dramatic, exhilerating sports events of this century so far. Two players at the top of their sport, standing toe to toe and pushing each other to the limits of their physical abilities. It really didn't matter who won - you just lose yourself in the event. "Meathead" tennis? I think we've been spoilt these last few years.

    Both players summed it up when they said pretty much the same thing after - that they had to keep pushing - one more point, one more game. If they lost then so be it, but they had to take it as far as they could. That was the enjoyment, for them and for us.

  • Comment number 11.

    How can anyone have ANYTHING negative to say about the sport, the tournament, the match or the players? Ths is a golden age for tennis, it is truly incredible to be able to watch 3 of the very greatest players of all time, and a 4th who is right on their tails, play each other repeatedly and drive each other on. In football terms, it is like having the current Barca, 89 Milan and 70 Brazil playing each other every 3 months, with 66 England (that's Murray :-)) in there just for good measure. In F1 terms, Fangio, Senna, Prost and say a Button. This level in a sport just does not happen.

    Comments about scrapping seeding are moronic. Yeah, it would be great to see less of these players, and have one-sided finals where the one who made it through destroyed a guy seeded 10 or 20. Genius.....

  • Comment number 12.

    Please let's not talk about Murray anymore in the top4. It's so disrespectful to three great players. The article above and likes of John Lloyd and Andrew Castle should know better. Talking about Andy Murray being part of the big four is a joke. He's proved nothing so far apart from that he's a choker. When he's won a couple of grand slams then lets talk about him, Del Potro is in a higher class than Murray and he's younger. No doubt Andrew Castle and the like will tip Murray to win Wimbledon... Again.
    Djoko has proved what a great player he is over the last 12 months. I didn't think he had this in him, obviously he has. And now he seems to have the better of rafa. Very interesting!!!

  • Comment number 13.

    can the next generation live up to the level of nadal, djokovic, federer and murray.
    I hope that the likes of tomic and raonic can prove that this generation isnt a fluke

    ps any other future starlets


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