Nadal vs. Djokovic: Here We Are Again, My Friend: The epic warfare of tennis’ big three

Copyright Grantland… Great little essay on the 2012 Australian Open final

You have just played the match of your life, or one of them, one of the many matches of your life, in the Australian Open final, where you fought back from the brink of defeat against one of the most dominant athletes on Earth. You fought for almost six hours, clawing at chances, screaming at yourself and scowling, until your opponent, who never shows weakness, visibly started to weaken. While he gasped for air and crumpled to the ground after rallies, you somehow got stronger. (But then, that’s what you always do: You get stronger.) The power of your ground strokes, as measured by their average speed, was higher in the sixth hour of tennis than in the first. You broke the unstoppable champion early in the fifth set. The crowd believed in you. You had control of the match. And then, in a way that managed to seem both impossible and unsurprising, the champion got a second wind, and you lost.

How must it feel to be Rafa Nadal today? The cruelest thing about this glutted golden age of men’s tennis is that it keeps producing astonishing matches, matches that actually expand your idea of what sport can be, and someone has to lose all of them. We’ve seen Roger Federer, probably the most effortlessly brilliant tennis player who ever lived, shattered and weeping on the court after losses that seemed to groan up from the Old Testament.1 We’ve seen endless variations on “Andy Murray having his heart handed to him,” to the point that his career increasingly seems to be in the hands of some demented opera composer. Murray’s five-set loss to Djokovic in the semifinals last Friday was clearly both the best match and the most painful moment of this year’s Australian Open — or it seemed that way, until we saw Nadal play a match for the ages and still lose to Djokovic on Sunday.

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