By Shane Thomas
Novak Djokovic beats Andy Murray 6-3, 3-6, 6-7, 6-1, 7-5 to reach the 2012 Australian Open Final.
It's been about 24 hours since the epic confrontation between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. I trust you've got your breath back. I sure hope the players have. No-one would begrudge either man a lie-in after yesterday's exertions.
With Rafael Nadal waiting in tomorrow's final, Djokovic went into the match looking to maintain his position at the top of the tennis mountain, Murray arrived looking to prove to his doubters that he belongs near the summit of said mountain. In the end, they were both successful.
Nole took the first set 6-3, taking advantage of a lacklustre Murray display. He then broke serve early in the second. Murray was in a position where he was a set down, a service-break down, and serving 0-30 down. This was painfully reminiscent of their contest in last year's Australian Open, where Murray was proverbially back-handed in an ignominious defeat. However, 2012 has brought us a Murray with a stronger temperament. He reeled off four games in a row, and won the set 6-3 to level the match.
But then everything changed in the third set. It was a ferocious microcosm of the match. To say that Murray won it on a tie-break after 88 torturous minutes, is to simplify things and disrespect the players. Each point was a mini-battle, every shot was played with a tenacity that left the audience as exhausted as the players.
A gripping sporting contest soon became something else, something more. I actually hesitate to even call this a tennis match. It was sporting opus of Odyssean proportions, a gruelling quasi-war that rivalled the labours of Hercules for its attritional narrative.
Both men played as if they were in Olympus, desperate for the favour of the Gods. They emptied their souls for our entertainment. For nearly five hours, the Rod Laver Arena turned into The Colosseum.
It reached a transcendental stage where confrontation turned to collaboration. It felt as if both men were no longer trying to beat the other, but instead, trying to create a mesmeric work of drama. The shared iron will of Murray and Djokovic imparted a chimeric osmosis on each television viewer, a magnetic pull preventing us from tearing our eyes away from the screen, forcing us to watch the action in a state of feverish empathetic wonder. We became bound to both players; their desire became our desire, their pain, our pain. By a form of athletic diffusion, we became part of the drama.
Many have expressed sympathy for Murray in defeat. They shouldn't. It's not that he hasn't deserved it. But this occasion went beyond partisanship, beyond a winner and a loser. We shouldn't feel sorry for Murray, we should be thanking him.
And we should also thank Djokovic. The only memory that should remain is of an absolute classic match which enriched and enshrined all involved, participant and spectator. This was palpable proof of the power of sport at its best.
It's only January, but in a year which the major sporting stories are expected to be reserved for the Olympics and Euro 2012, not to mention the more perennial delights of The Superbowl, The Masters and the Formula 1 season, they'll all have to go some to top what happened in Melbourne for the best sporting moment of 2012.
If you can't appreciate Murray and Djokovic after what they gave us, then tennis isn't the sport for you. Told you this tournament was going to heat up.
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