In the longest Grand Slam final in Open Era tennis (probably ever as well), Novak Djokovic ended the almost 6 hour odyssey with a forehand shot from the middle of the court to his right and out of reach of Rafael Nadal's forehand.
That is not to say that the fight was as simple, though it certainly looked it after the 3rd set. Nadal had taken the first set 7-5, but Djokovic had then stormed through the next two sets, taking them 6-4 and then 6-2. The Spaniard seemed out of the game - tired, sweating, running to and fro - while the Serbian dictated the shots from the center of his baseline. Anyone who would have said that the match would go till a fifth set would have been considered blind with stupidity or with hope.
Yet that is exactly what happened. The turning point was the game in the fourth set, when Nadal was down forty love on his own serve and a break point to the Serb would have given the world number one a chance to serve for the match. But against all odds, all statistics, against all reason and rational belief, Rafael Nadal thundered serve after serve and rally after rally to win the game, and went on to win the set. As a friend remarked, he seemed to be telling us all: "Alright boys, warm up's over. Let's start playing some tennis".
(When Djokovic was down in the game that led to the fourth set's tie break, you could see the weariness in him as he let the last shot go, saving his energy for the tie break.)
And even in the fifth set, as the match passed the five hour time and into 30 plus shot rallies that left players gasping for breath on the floor, Nadal, while on the run from the far corner of the court hammered a cross court winner that just seemed surreal. As the commentator put it, "that shot at 164kph was the fastest we've seen, and he was going backwards when he hit it"
It was all to no avail, sadly, as Djokovic outlasted - even he would admit that he didn't really "defeat" - Nadal, plunging to his knees and tearing off his tee shirt in joy and relief. But this belies the accomplishment that Nadal achieved that night. In the midst of players who have honed their art to perfection - and there is no denying that there is a certain grace, fluidity, and even sagacity to the way Federer, Djokovic, and Murray all play - Nadal succeeds to trump all that with pure grit. He never gives up, never retreats, no matter what the scoreboard says, no matter what odds the bookies dole out. In a word, he inspires. In his grinding of teeth and grunting of chest, we are reminded to hope regardless of how hopeless things seem, that for anyone and all of us, the match is never over till the last point is played.
After the semi finals against Federer, Nadal was briefly interviewed on court about the rivalry between him and Federer. In three days, the age of Federer-Nadal has ended. The era of Nadal-Djokovic has begun.