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Djokovic vs Nadal 2012 Australian Open final: A look back at the biggest battle in tennis history

Andrew Hendrie in ATP Tour 26 Jan 2019
  • Djokovic and Nadal played out one of the sport's most spectacular battles in the 2012 Australian Open final
  • Ahead of their rematch in the 2019 showpiece on Sunday, we take a look back at the memorable encounter
Novak Djokovic rips his shirt in celebration after winning the 2012 Australian Open title (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal clash in an Australian Open final for the first time since their legendary 2012 showdown, which many believe is the single greatest match ever played. Ahead of their battle in the 2019 final on Sunday, we take a trip down memory lane and relive some of the glorious moments of Djokovic and Nadal’s extraordinary encounter seven years ago.

There’s a couple of eerie similarities between 2012 and 2019 when it comes to these two - Djokovic and Nadal were also the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world seven years ago, while the Serbian was on a two-slam winning streak having won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open the previous year, needing the Australian Open to set up a chance to hold all four majors simultaneously at Roland Garros.

That’s the scenario facing Djokovic again on Sunday, while Nadal will be trying to become just the third man after Rod Laver and Roy Emerson to win all four slams at least twice.

But, back to that spectacular night in 2012.


In what was the longest Grand Slam final of all time, clocking in at five hours and 53 minutes, Djokovic emerged triumphant in one of the most gruelling and energy-sapping contests you’ll ever see in any sport.



Gladiatorial and combative to the very last point, Djokovic and Nadal left every drop of energy they had in the tank on Rod Laver Arena, but it was the Serbian who managed to edge his great rival by a 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7(5) 7-5 scoreline at 1.37am on Monday morning.

Novak Djokovic celebrates victory (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
"Rafa is one of best players ever and one of the most respected guys on tour," said Djokovic after the win. "Unfortunately there couldn't be two winners and I hope we have many more matches like this."

Trading brutal blows over the course of nearly six hours, one of the highlights of the clash came at 4-4 in the fifth set after Djokovic had just broken Nadal to get back on serve.


The pair went to war on a punishing 31-shot rally from the baseline, and it was Djokovic who succumbed first, firing a backhand long as he fell onto his back, while Nadal quickly moved towards the sideline to catch his breath.

“I was just thinking of getting some air and trying to recover for next point… Thousand thoughts going through the mind,” Djokovic said. “Trying to separate the right from wrong. Trying to prioritise the next point. I'm playing against one of the best players ever -- the player that is so mentally strong. He was going for everything or nothing."



Making the triumph all the more incredible for Djokovic was the fact he’d survived an almost-identical challenge in the semi-finals against Andy Murray, beating the Scot in four hours and 50 minutes in another marathon five-setter.

It was a mental battle just as much as physical, with Djokovic having the chance to wrap up the match in the fourth set tiebreak as he claimed the mini-break to lead 5-3, but Nadal would sensationally win the next four points to force the decider.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal struggle to say on their feet during the trophy ceremony (Photo by GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
The Spaniard appeared as if he was going to ride that momentum to the finish line as he broke for a 4-2 lead in the fifth, but Djokovic somehow staged a heroic fightback, levelling the scores at 4-4, surviving that aforementioned 31-shot baseline exchange, breaking Nadal at 6-5 and subsequently holding his next service game at deuce to register arguably the best win of his illustrious career.

The match was also famous for Nadal and Djokovic almost collapsing from fatigue during the trophy ceremony, before finally they were given a chair to sit down on, along with a bottle of water!



Nadal was understandably crestfallen after the match, but acknowledged the role he played in one of the finest matches in the sport’s history.

"This one was very special," he said. "But I really understand that was a really special match, and probably a match that's going to be in my mind not because I lost, no, because the way that we played.”

Now, seven years later, the pair will clash once more under the lights on Rod Laver Arena for the Australian Open title.

Djokovic is a perfect 6-0 in Australian Open finals and is going for a record seventh title at Melbourne Park, along with a 15th major, while Nadal is looking to claim an 18th Grand Slam crown and a second Australian Open trophy after winning his first a decade ago in 2009.


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Djokovic vs Nadal 2012 Australian Open final: A look back at the biggest battle in tennis history

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal clash in an Australian Open final for the first time since their legendary 2012 showdown, which many believe is the single greatest match ever played. Ahead of their battle in the 2019 final on Sunday, we take a trip down memory lane and relive some of the glorious moments of Djokovic and Nadal’s extraordinary encounter seven years ago.

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