Match of the century!
There was a famous moment in golf journalism, after an ageing and written-off Jack Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters tournament. A senior writer totally seized up in the media room, clutching his hair and saying “it’s too big, it’s too big, it’s too big…”. What the guy had just witnessed simply defied any words he could write.
You feel the same way trying to describe an Australian Open final like the one we had last night. What do you write? How do you sum up five hours and 53 minutes of the most epic tennis imaginable between two guys with the stamina of marathon runners, the dynamism of sprinters and the skill of marksmen?
Oh, there are all sorts of angles you can take. More angles than a protractor factory. You can take the broad view and start the “who’s the greatest ever?” debate. After all, if Federer has the most Grand Slams ever, but Nadal keeps beating Federer when they meet in Slams, and now Djokovic keeps beating both of them, that’s the kind of argument that could rage on well past pub closing time.
You could narrow things down and ask, albeit somewhat uncharitably, why women get equal pay in tennis when the men’s final lasted six times longer than the punctured souffle that was the women’s final.
Or you could do the sensible thing, and celebrate this match as an exemplar of everything that can be, and is, great about sport. In your best Richie Benaud accent, you substitute the “c” in catch for the “m” in match, sit back and reflect over your morning Weet Bix and declare: “What a match! What… a… match!”.
Or to put it in the succinct, impassioned words of commenter “Simon” on the Fox Sports website at 2.06 this morning, “Sport will always be greatest thing in universe”.
This week in Australian life has again been dogged by bitter political sniping of the most deplorable, under-handed and ultimately demoralising kind. The international cricket this summer, despite some brilliant individual performances, has been a contest between a rising team giving its all and another that doesn’t really want to be here.
But last night, we saw two guys fighting like their farms, and a million other farms, depended on it. There was no single defining, miracle between-the-legs down-the-line impossible shot. There was just precision and chasing. Precision and chasing. Another Djokovic forehand down the line, another counter-attacking Nadal cross court backhand, which from any other player would have been a defensive shot.
Holy cow, but it was something to watch.
Only problem was, you had to stay up three quarters of the night to watch it. Twice in my career as a dedicated couch fan, I have desperately regretted going to bed halfway through a match.
Once was during the 1999 Cricket World Cup, when Australia was 3-for-stuff all chasing South Africa’s plenty. Wouldn’t you know, that was the night Steve Waugh made his epic century after his brilliant “you’ve just dropped the World Cup” sledge to South African batsman Herschelle Gibbs.
The other was last night, my early retirement forced by parental duties at this morning’s resumption of the 2012 school year. The Open organisers need to sit down with sponsors and broadcasters and sort out the starting times. Two years ago, Bernard Tomic complained about playing past his bedtime, and it was actually the only justified whinge the serial whinger has ever had.
I watched till the brief rain delay last night. That was some time after 11pm. It was the fourth set, and you just knew the match was going to rock on into the night.
The game prior to the rain delay had everything. Djokovic was up two sets to one, leading 4-3 on serve. The tennis at this point of the match was intense beyond belief. To win a point, you either had to hit the ball on the line or within a hair’s breadth of it. If only European ship captains navigated as truly.
Then Djokovic reduced Nadal to 0-40 on the Spaniard’s serve. This was his big chance. So what does Nadal do? He reels off five consecutive points. Bang, bang, bang. Deuce. Bang, bang. Four all. Close the roof. Game still on.
If those who went to sleep at that moment had a night like me, you lay in bed in a fitful half-sleep, wondering what on earth had happened in the tennis. What happened is this. Nadal won the fourth set in a tie breaker and took the match to a fifth. Even though this duo had played 29 times previously without going to five sets, you knew this thing was going the distance. You just knew it.
You knew there would be further twists too. Like Nadal going up 4-2 in the fifth, but eventually succumbing 7-5. And you knew that there would quotes flying around this morning to the effect that “there are no losers in a match like this”.
Clichés are the enemy of sports reporting, but sometimes, when words fail, that really is all you’re left with. This was indeed a match no one deserved to lose. It was the match of the century, and you get the feeling you’d be saying that if it had happened in 2099, not 2012.
Thank you linespeople, thank you ball kiddies. And thank you both, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
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