For the third time in the last four majors, the top four players advanced to the semifinals, however, in Paris and New York there was a different configuration than this year in Melbourne – Djokovic faced Federer with the balanced outcome whilst Nadal overcame Murray twice (thrice counting their semifinal at Wimbledon). Unfortunately – in regard of lack of variety – we can expect their another meetings in the remaining majors this year, which looking at it from a different perspective is fascinating though. There’s no doubt that these four guys have been playing for five seasons in a special league inaccessible for others, creating legendary rivarlies between themselves.
The repeat of the last year’s final was announced by Andy Murray as a dogfight. And indeed, the man from Great Britain was right. As early as the second game of the match suggested Murray’s exceptional mindset, he won the game after saving a double break point and began encouraging the crowd for a bigger support, something what he does only at the crucial stages of his toughest matches. As the match progressed, Djokovic established his superiority and after taking the opening set, he led 2:0* in the 2nd set. Since the 3rd game the level of play changed distinctively, an average rally became longer and more punishing, particular games more tighter; Murray dealt better with these conditions and got the 67-minute set. The pitched battle was continued in the following set already in the 1st game which lasted 18 minutes (!), and was concluded with Djokovic’s first service held since the second game of the previous set. Murray in that game was drinking his beverage between the rallies, the Serb looked exhausted. The physical tiredness caught the Scot too, it happened in the 4th game, and the play got back on the level terms. Djokovic leading 5:4* squandered three set points – first Murray hit an ace out-wide, then a forehand winner on the line. On the third set point Murray surprised his opponent with a forehand drop-shot which forced the Serb to an extreme stretch in vain three strokes later. Murray has been playing tie-breaks for twelve months with huge confidence and confirmed it this time, prevailing 7 points to 4, producing a service winner on his second set point followed by a roar towards his box. Murray had to pay the price for his amazing effort in two very long sets. Djokovic needed less time to build a 4:0 lead than to win the first game of the previous set! I was excited before the 5th set because both guys are the biggest specialists of deciding sets beside Nadal among active players (Djokovic 13-5, Murray 12-5 prior to that moment). The Scot changed his T-shirt from red to white one. First five games went with serve, at 3:2 (0/30), Djokovic played three brilliant backhands in succession and made a break which seemed crucial. Murray is a great fighter though, at *2:5 being two points away from defeat twice, he produced two service winners and broke back in the next game to ‘love’ encouraging the crowd once again. He was challangeless at the time. At 5 all he had a double mini-match point – Djokovic made a service winner, at 30/40 won a 30-stroke rally hitting the line with risky forehand shot! Third break point for Murray flown away with his simple backhand error at the 4th stroke of the rally. Djokovic finishes the game with drive-volley, game duration – 9 minutes. 12th game delivers quickly a double match point for the Serbian warrior, he chases the net and plays a safe but winning forehand volley, the next second celebrates on his back one of the biggest wins in his career, almost 5-hour war of attrition ended thirty minutes after midnight. “Andy deserves the credit to come back from 2-5 down. He was fighting. I was fighting,” Djokovic said collecting victory No. 400. “Not many words that can describe the feeling of the match. Evidently it was a physical match… it was one of the best matches I played. Emotionally and mentally it was equally hard.”… Stats of the match
Well, this match goes to history books as one of the best in history of the tournament, and confirms – at least for the time being – Murray’s status of the eternal No. 4. I’m curious how this loss will affect his mind, he was struggling the lack of motivation a few months in the last two years after losing the Australian Open finals. His position of the No. 1 contender and the Grand Slam champion becomes much more dubious because his better match-up player (Federer) dropped to No. 3. It means Murray in each biggest event will face a potential task to play against Djokovic and Nadal in his last two matches. It might be a mountain too high to climb. Nadal had already established a mental edge over Murray before 2012, Djokovic will have it from now on. He won that important ‘the best of three’ thriller in Rome, now he adds ‘the best of five’ marathon in Mebourne to their rivalry which may be a deciding factor in the years to come.
# Top 4 seeded players in semi-finals at the Australian Open:
(2)Rafael Nadal d. (3)Roger Federer 6-7(5), 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-4 [3:41 h]
It was their record tying 10th meeting in Slams (Ivan Lendl vs. John McEnroe 7-3), the second one in Melbourne after a three-year break. Federer took an early initiative, led 3:0* extending a number of winning games against Rafa to ten (!, beat him 6-3, 6-0 in London last November). The Swiss afterwards led 4:1 in games and 4:1 in the tie-break, but Nadal was allowed to play a rally which could give him saving third straight set point – made a silly backhand error. At 2:2 in the 2nd set, Federer had a break point, until that moment both guys had converted two chances each, this time Federer played a sloppy forehand and the momentum shifted onto Nadal’s side. The Spaniard got five consecutive games (made a break in the 6th game thanks to two awesome passing-shots, the first one in response to Federer’s beautiful backhand overhead) and had a double break point to get the sixth straight game at the beginning of the 3rd set.Even fireworks, which forced players to leave the court for a few minutes (Australian Day celebrated annually on 26 January) at 5:2 in the 2nd set, didn’t distract his concentration. There was an exchange of breaks in the middle of the 3rd set and tie-break determined again. Nadal raced to a 6:1 lead, Federer saved quickly four set points, but on the fifth, Nadal used his simplest and most efficient action – slice serve on backhand followed up with a heavy inside-out forehand. The Swiss faced enormously tough task to beat his biggest foe in at least 4-hour match, he kept believing though, but leading 4:3 sent his forehand wide around 10 centimeters on break point. It was a crucial moment, Nadal broke in the following game, and serving for the match saved a break point (after squandering the first match point) thanks to his extraordinary defensive skills – Federer was lobbed despite a very good approach shot which usually gives him a point directly or in the next stroke with an easy overhead… It’s the end of Federer’s fifth longest winning streak # “’Please win the point!’, that’s all,” Nadal mentioned his mindset on the vital set point in the 3rd set. “I was very, very nervous at that moment. Losing four set points in a row is tough, especially when you play the toughest in history.” Despite the painful loss, Federer stays positive: “It was a tough match physically as well. I’m disappointed, but it’s only the beginning of the season. I’m feeling all right, so it’s OK.”
# Federer’s winning streaks (at least 20 matches):
41 – lost to Guillermo Canas, Indian Wells 2007 35 – lost to David Nalbandian, Shanghai 2005 26 – lost to Marat Safin, Australian Open 2005 25 – lost to Richard Gasquet, Monte Carlo 2005 24 – lost to Rafael Nadal, Australian Open 2012 23 – lost to Dominik Hrbaty, Cincinnati 2004 21 – lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Montereal 2009