The greatest: Djokovic hails best win after slaying Nadal

World No1 beats Spaniard in longest ever grand slam final to underline status as pre-eminent force

ECSTATIC, exhilarated and exhausted, Novak Djokovic hailed his finest hour after he conjured a Herculean effort to defeat Rafael Nadal in a record-breaking Australian Open final and take his extraordinary career to a new pinnacle.

Djokovic claimed his third consecutive grand slam and his fourth from five attempts by outlasting Mr Stamina himself, winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5 in a titanic contest which was, at almost six hours, the longest major final ever.

The defending champion came from a set behind and then a break down in the fifth against second seed Nadal, underlining his status as world No1 and proving he is ready to carry on where a title-laden, breakthrough year left off.

It was all the more remarkable given his epic semi-final with Britain’s Andy Murray less than 48 hours earlier and, on clinching victory, Djokovic unleashed a torrent of emotion, tearing off his shirt before roaring at his supporters.

The Serb, 24, now holds three of the four grand slams – the Australian Open, US Open and Wimbledon – and will become only the third man to own all four if he triumphs at the French Open in June.

“Wimbledon is right up there because it was the tournament I always wanted to win but this comes out on top because we played for almost six hours, it was incredible,” said Djokovic.

“It was the longest grand slam final of all time – just hearing that fact makes me cry. I am very proud to be a part of history, to be among the elite group of players who have won this trophy several times.

“I had a lot of chances to win it in four sets but he deserved to prolong it and then really both of us could have won the match, it could have gone either way.

“Unfortunately there couldn’t be two winners and I hope we have many more matches like this.”

Ten-time grand slam winner Nadal, himself a champion at Melbourne Park three years ago, was ostensibly fresher, having completed his semi-final victory over Roger Federer on Thursday, 24 hours before Djokovic ended Murray’s hopes of a maiden major title.

But having seized the initiative by taking the first set, he was pegged back in the next two and drew on every ounce of his fabled perseverance to draw level in a fourth set that stretched to 88 minutes.

The Spaniard looked to have gained a crucial foothold when he broke to go 4-2 ahead in the decider, but back Djokovic came again to beat Nadal for the seventh consecutive time and earn his own fifth, and greatest, grand slam success.

Nadal: I enjoyed suffering longest ever slam final
DEFEATED Rafael Nadal admitted enjoying the “suffering” of an epic Australian Open final that he felt would never reach its conclusion.

World No1 Novak Djokovic finally prevailed after almost six hours of captivating slugging to claim his third straight grand slam title. And Nadal said: “You look around and you see the watch: five hours, four hours, three hours, finally five hours 53. Seems like it’s never going to finish.

“But that’s nice, to be there fighting, trying to go to the limit, bring your body to the limit of his chances – something I really enjoy. I always said it’s good to suffer – enjoy suffering, no?”

FACTFILE | NOVAK DJOKOVIC
● Djokovic has now won three grand slam titles in a row, and four out of five since the start of last year

● He has lost just six times in his last 85 matches, two of which were at the ATP World Tour Finals in London at the end of 2011, when he was suffering the after effects of injury

● He has won his last seven matches against Rafael Nadal, all of which have been finals. The last three have been grand slam finals

● He won 10 titles from 15 events entered in 2011, including seven in succession at the start of the year. His 45-match winning run ended in the semi-finals of the French Open, where he was beaten by Roger Federer

● He has reached at least the semi-finals of the last seven grand slam events, since Wimbledon 2010

● He has now won 29 titles in total and amassed around $32m (£20m ) in prize money alone