sport

Djokovic downs Nadal in final

World number one Novak Djokovic overcame a defiant Rafael Nadal in five epic sets to retain his Australian Open title in Melbourne on Sunday.

In one of the greatest matches of all time, the Serbian bounced back from 4-2 down in the deciding set to prevail 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5/7) 7-5 on Rod Laver Arena.

Nadal claimed the early initiative by winning the first set.

The momentum shifted one way and then the other but a break in the 11th game proved crucial as the Spaniard took it 7-5 in an hour and 20 minutes.

Having threatened on Djokovic's first two service games, Nadal finally made the breakthrough for a 3-2 advantage.

He squandered his first break point but some big hitting off the backhand side set up a second which he took when Djokovic thrashed a short ball long.

The Serbian's frustration was evident, hurling his racquet to the floor at the changeover, and he upped his game when play resumed.

He had two break points to hit back immediately but the first came and went via a booming Nadal forehand and the second when Djokovic steered a sloppy groundstroke wide.

Nadal eventually held for 4-2 but he could not repeat the feat when Djokovic applied the pressure in his next service game.

He staved off the first two break points - the second with a clever swinging serve out wide - but on the third could only put a weak forehand into the net.

Two routine holds followed before Nadal upped the aggression to break for a 6-5 lead and he served it out.

Djokovic made a strong start to the second set and although he missed two more break point opportunities at 1-0, he did make the breakthrough at 2-1 courtesy of a fantastic low volley which landed on the baseline.

And with the defending champion looking as though he was starting to find his best form as he bids to maintain his recent dominance over Nadal, two solid holds saw him increase that advantage to 5-2.

Djokovic had a set point in the next game only for the second seed to wriggle out of trouble.

And the 24-year-old from Belgrade was made to rue that moment as he failed to serve it out, Nadal breaking to make it 5-4 after Djokovic threw up his first double fault of the match.

The pressure swung back Nadal's way and he could not cope with it, a double fault on Djokovic's fourth set point levelling matters.

The feeling the match was swinging Djokovic's way strengthened at the start of the third set.

The Serbian, who won Wimbledon and the US Open last year as well as the title in Melbourne, was dictating from the baseline with Nadal's points coming mainly from errors from his opponent.

The pressure finally told on the Spaniard when a whipped winning forehand saw Djokovic break for a 3-1 lead.

And with the top seed now in full flow, he threatened again on the Nadal serve at 4-1 only for the French Open champion to cling on.

But there was to be no reprieve with Nadal 5-2 down. Djokovic surged to 0-40 and claimed another break and the set with a blistering forehand down the line.

Djokovic struggled before holding in the opening game of the fourth as Nadal tried to find a swift response to going behind.

The world number two was showing all his customary grit and also starting to re-find a little bit more pop on his forehand.

But Djokovic was not for moving.

The favourite was still displaying the look of a confident man and made his move in the eighth game with some stunning tennis bringing up three break points.

Again Nadal fought, saving the first with a crunching forehand winner, the second with a big serve and the third with a backhand behind his opponent. And from deuce he completed the comeback with two big serves to level it at 4-4.

At that juncture, the forecast rain arrived, forcing the players to take a short break while the roof on Rod Laver Arena was closed.

When play resumed, Djokovic held for 5-4, finishing the game with a brilliant forehand down the line.

And with Nadal not troubled on serve either, the set went to a tie-break.

The breaker ebbed and flowed until Nadal set up a set-point at 6-5 and he clinched it when Djokovic put a forehand into the tramlines.

It was rapidly turning into a classic.

Both men had worked hard to get to the final - Djokovic requiring four hours and 50 minutes to get past Andy Murray and Nadal three hours and 42 minutes to see off old foe Roger Federer.

Crucially, though, Nadal's match had taken place 24 hours earlier and in the early stages of the fifth the Spaniard seemed to have a greater spring in the step.

And so it proved as he claimed the first break of the decider to move 4-2 up as Djokovic sent a cross-court forehand long.

But the match swiftly took another turn, Djokovic breaking back straight away to get it back on serve.

By now, the clock was approaching five hours, making it the longest grand slam final of all time, breaking the previous record of four hours and 54 minutes set by Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander at the 1988 US Open, and at five hours and 15 minutes it also became the longest match ever at the Australian Open.

The sheer physical effort required by both players was evident in the first point of the ninth game when a 32-shot rally ended with Djokovic sending a backhand long before dropping to the floor in exhaustion.

Despite his obvious fatigue, the Serbian still conjured up a break point only for Nadal to escape with a superb swinging serve out wide and eventually hold for a 5-4 lead.

Djokovic had another two at 5-5, the first saved by a booming Nadal second serve but on the second he made the breakthrough as the Spaniard netted a sliced backhand.

Inevitably Nadal was not done and he had a break point himself with Djokovic serving for the match.

By now though there were no more miracles left and having staved off the danger, Djokovic set up a match point which he took with a winning forehand to secure the win 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5/7) 7-5 in five hours and 53 minutes.