The Australia tennis season is over for another year and what a way to end! Lleyton Hewitt said best when he described the final as “two gladiators going toe-to-toe”: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, the numbers one and two ranked players on the ATP tour, took it to the wire. For almost six hours we were treated to unrelenting power-hitting from all quarters of the court; the large number of unforced errors from both players giving testimony to the risks each was forced to take, just to score a point. There was nothing tentative about it. A full-blooded fight to the very end, where either player could have prevailed and both played with a single-minded determination to do so.
It was the longest men’s singles final in the history of open era tennis; but that might have been difficult to endure had it not been for the quality of the shot making, the breath-taking court coverage, the unremitting attack and the courageous defence shown by both players. And the quality didn’t diminish as the players grew weary. There was too much at stake to even think of backing off, much less of quitting.
In his victor’s speech, Novak Djokovic said that it was a pity there couldn’t be two winners. Well, we all knew before it started that there could only be one winner; but what we came to realise at the end of the match was that there were no losers: not the fifteen thousand or so spectators in the stadium; not the millions watching on television around the world; not the organisers nor the sponsors – not even Rafa Nadal – for quite apart from the trophy and the prize money, there was respect and admiration to be won and both Rafa and Novak won them in spades for their skill, their athleticism, their refusal to surrender and their sportsmanship towards each other.
And if, at the end, Djokovic tore off his shirt and roared at the top of his voice like a demented skinhead at a soccer match (not a good look, Nole), who can blame him? He might just have participated in – and we might just have witnessed – the greatest men’s singles tennis match ever. Roll on Roland Garros.