The final throwdown is here. As Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal - aka Djodal - prepare to battle in a third straight Slam decider in Rod Laver Arena tonight, let’s rewind the marquee matches of the past fortnight. In chronological order, we’ve cherry-picked this top 10 of AO2012.
1. Bernard Tomic d. (22) Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5, first round.
The talent of the Aussie young gun has never been in question; in this hot opening round, Tomic displayed new-found grit as well.
2. Bernard Tomic d (13) Alexandr Dolgopolov 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-3, third round.
Touch artist Tomic versus circus act Dolgo was ridiculous fun: slice-and-dice rallies, teasing drop shot-lob combinations, wrong-footing winners, and the little guy, Dolgo, bombing his serve. If this is the future of men’s tennis, we give it a resounding ‘Like’.
3. (11) Kim Clijsters d. (5) Li Na 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, fourth round.
Replay of the 2011 final; same winner, but a lot more drama. Clijsters went over on her left ankle in the first set and fell behind 3-1 in the second. But extravagant errors from Li kept the defending champion in the contest. In the match-swinging tiebreak, Clijsters saved four matchpoints from 2-6, the last with a risky drop shot-lob combination.
4. (1) Novak Djokovic d. Lleyton Hewitt 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, fourth round.
Lleyton’s last stand? The former No.1 was again the last Aussie standing. The aging warrior showed all his famous fight to take the third set when all seemed lost at 3-0 down. Retrieving one shot, Hewitt literally ended up flat on his face. If it was his last AO, Hewitt went out in style.
5. (11) Kim Clijsters d (1) Caroline Wozniacki, 6-3, 7-6, quarterfinal.
Despite an iffy ankle, Clijsters monstered the No.1 seed with big hitting, charging to 6-3, 5-2. The Wozniacki forehand in particular was sitting up for the speedier, more explosive Clijsters to slam for winners. Caro had to hope for mistakes; she was gifted a few but not enough to turn the match, or hold onto her No.1 ranking.
6. (2) Rafael Nadal d. (7) Tomas Berdych 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3, quarterfinal.
The big-hitting Czech dominated early over an agitated Nadal. But he didn’t convert on the scoreboard, missing a crucial volley that would have put him two sets up. Rafa willed himself to victory, and finished full of running to face Federer in the semifinals.
7. (3) Victoria Azarenka d. (11) Kim Clijsters 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, semifinal.
Clijsters threatened to rip the match from her younger opponent with a burst of deadly hitting in the second set that extended to a breakpoint in the first game of the third. Azarenka kept her cool to go on the attack in the decider after Clijsters twice retrieved breaks of serve.
8. (4) Maria Sharapova d. (2) Petra Kvitova 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, semifinal.
Reversal of the Wimbledon final. The Czech lefty possesses all the flair and fluent power but Maria’s steeliness came to the fore at 4-all and 0-30 down in the third. But for a successful challenge, the Russian would have been 0-40 down. Instead, it was Kvitova who unravelled while Maria won eight of the next nine points to enter her third Australian final.
9. (2) Rafael Nadal d (3) Roger Federer 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-4, semifinal.
The storied rivals served up their 10th grand slam meeting, their first in a semifinal since Paris 2005. Federer blazed to a 3-0 start, and led by a set and a break before Nadal swung the match with unbelievable winners and gets from extreme defence. Rafa extends his dominance to 8-2 in majors.
10. (1) Novak Djokovic d. (4) Andy Murray 6-3, 3-6, 6-7, 6-1, 7-5, semifinal.
The 2011 finalists went at each other like wood-cutters for four hours 50 minutes. Murray won the brutal, 88-minute third set after braving three set points. He slumped in the fourth, and Djokovic powered away to 5-2 in the fifth. The Scot landed some telling forehands to threaten at 5-all and 40-15 on the Djokovic serve before the Serb brazened out the game with bold hitting and broke Murray for one of his toughest wins in a major.