Nadal's paradox: how to win while losing
While half the planet was commenting one of the most riveting tennis matches ever, Rafael Nadal was sound asleep in his hotel room in hot and humid Melbourne.
Well after midday, the world's No 2 in tennis was finally able to rest after experiencing a paradoxical defeat, which smacked of victory at the same time.
"I gave all I had," Nadal had said earlier at a press conference at 3am after the longest Grand Slam match of all times - 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7) and 7-5 in five hours and 53 minutes, which ended at 1:40am on Monday with an reverse right by Serbian Novak Djokovic.
Including the match in Australia, Nadal has already lost seven consecutive finals to the Serbian - a rival who, in 2011, had made the Spaniard feel powerless in a way that no other opponent had done.
But something changed in Australia, because this time, powerlessness did not conquer Nadal. Despite technical shortcomings and moments of losing solidity and opportunities, Nadal cornered Djokovic with his skill and passion.
He took 4-2 and 30-15 in the fifth set, where he failed with a simple backhand - a moment that probably changed the course of the match. Djokovic, at least, thinks so.
"That point in the 4-2 was key, if it had been below 5-2 I think that would have been the end," the world No 1 said in an interview with dpa and two other news agencies.
"I am sincerely sorry that one of us had to lose. We both gave every last drop of our energy. We both deserved to win," he stressed.
"I think I never said so many positive things after a defeat," the Spaniard had admitted, with a smile, several hours earlier.
In his hotel room, with family members and other close people, Nadal analysed the final match almost until Monday morning. In the evening, he would fly back to Spain.
"It is true I failed with that ball of 30-15, which was fairly clear," Nadal admitted.
"But it is one move in the game, we should not keep thinking about that ball, it would be unfair to myself to keep thinking about that ball, to think it was that ball. In the fourth set it was 4-3 and 0-40 for him, and I did a fantastic job saving it."
While Nadal was still resting, Djokovic was already awake, unable to sleep with the adrenaline still racing in his veins. He had gone to bed at 8 am, but a few hours later, he was already up for a photo session and for several meetings with the media.
"I felt sleepy to be honest ... I felt lots of pain all over the body," said the Serbian, who won 10 titles in 2011, three of them in the Grand Slam.
"The adrenaline is still there and I am still very excited what I have experienced here in the past two weeks and especially last night.
"And I am full of joy but I don't think I have a real sense of what is going on. I will feel that when I go back home and take some time and enjoy the success."
Djokovic already dares to dream of repeating the feat of Rod Laver: to conquer the four big ones in the same season, giving the Grand Slam a vitality that the world of tennis has not seen since 1969.
"A player already did it, (meaning that) it is possible, yes," he said.
"Winning four Grand Slams in the same year would be the ultimate challenge. But the way I am playing now, I think my game is good enough to win titles on all surfaces and I have proven that even last year.
"Winning back to back Madrid and Rome was an incredible effort so that gives me a lot of confidence and self-belief coming to the clay courts now."
While Djokovic was talking, Nadal was resting at a hotel just a few kilometres away. Despite all the doubts that the Serbian awakens in him, despite his difficulties in the game, the Spaniard remains "the" player, the man who can most easily prevent Djokovic from becoming Laver's heir.
Nadal on Sunday suffered his third successive defeat in Grand Slam finals - something unprecedented in the era of open tennis - maybe reducing the pressure on Switzerland's Roger Federer, whose record of 16 titles is not final, since Nadal has 10 at age 25.
Australia is already a closed chapter in the year 2012 which took off to a spectacular start in men's tennis. And on Sunday, June 10, Paris will host the final of Roland Garros - territory in which Nadal is king. What happens there could mark the entire season, and maybe even leave its mark on the history of tennis.