Djokovic wasn’t the only one feeling a little dazed Monday. There were still 1.86 million people watching in Australia until after 1:30 a.m. The peak audience was 3.86 million, approaching about one-fifth of the population. When the last ball was struck, hardly any of the almost 15,000 spectators in Rod Laver Arena had left.
Tournament director Craig Tiley, celebrating a record attendance of 686,006 over two weeks, described the final as “the greatest match of all time.”
A day after earning her first Grand Slam title, even Victoria Azarenka came out to watch the men’s final. The 22-year-old Belarusian needed 82 minutes _ two minutes more than the first set lasted between Nadal and Djokovic _ to rout Maria Sharapova and claim both the trophy and the No. 1 ranking.
Nadal got closer to ending the Serb’s recent success against him, but after being a break up in the fifth set, couldn’t get over the line. Despite a third straight loss in a Grand Slam final, Nadal leaves Melbourne more motivated than ever.
Less than 24 hours before the tournament began, he was in tears, believing a freak knee injury he sustained while sitting on a chair would prevent him from competing in the tournament.
To end it having pushed his nemesis to the limit was more than enough consolation for the 10-time Grand Slam champion.
“I wanted to win, but I am happy about how I did,” he said. “I had my chances against the best player of the world today. I played one against one.”
In the end, Djokovic’s unshakable belief that began to develop when he won the Davis Cup with Serbia at the end of 2010, and strengthened when he went the first 41 matches of last season unbeaten, pulled him through.
“When I played three, four years ago against Rafa and Roger in Grand Slam semifinals and finals, I felt that they were just superior on the court, that they had this mental advantage,” he said. “Because they just know that when the time comes, when the match is breaking down, fifth set, they will always prevail, because they believe more, they have more experience and they know what to do.”
Now it’s Djokovic’s turn to feel like he’s the one who can’t lose.
AP Sports Writer John Pye contributed to this report.
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