At five hours and 53 minutes, it was the longest-ever match at the Australian Open and the longest men's Grand Slam final on record, surpassing the previous record of four hours and 54 minutes when Mats Wilander defeated Ivan Lendl at the 1988 US Open.
In his acceptance speech, Djokovic said, "Rafa, you're one of the best players ever, one of the most respected players on tour. We made history tonight; unfortunately there couldn't be two winners tonight. I wish you all the best for this season and I hope that we will have many more finals like this."
It was the third successive Grand Slam final that Djokovic and Nadal have contested, and saw the Serb extend his winning streak over Nadal to seven straight matches. The pair clashed in six finals last season, with Djokovic prevailing in each one, including at Wimbledon and the US Open.
The 24 year old Serb won his first major title at the Australian Open in 2008, defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and reclaimed the trophy at Melbourne Park last year with victory over Andy Murray. Last year's victory proved to be the catalyst for one of the greatest seasons tennis has ever seen. The Serb went on to compile a 70-6 match record, taking in a career-best 10 titles, and finished as the year-end World No. 1 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings.
In a pulsating contest on Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic rallied from a 2-4 deficit in the fifth set, to fight back and claim a dramatic victory. He continued to narrow the gap in his FedEx ATP Head2Head series with the Spaniard to 14-16. Nadal had never previously lost a Grand Slam final after winning the first set.
Djokovic now has a 5-2 record in Grand Slam finals, with his two defeats coming against Roger Federer in the 2007 US Open final and against Nadal in the 2010 US Open final. He is just the fifth man in the Open Era to win three successive Grand Slam titles, joining Pete Sampras, Rod Laver, Federer and Nadal.
The Belgrade native had come through a marathon semi-final clash at Melbourne Park on Friday night, edging Andy Murray 7-5 in the fifth set after four hours and 50 minutes to notch his 400th tour-level win. He improved to a 32-5 event record.
The 25-year-old Nadal was bidding to win his 11th major title and his second trophy at the Australian Open, having beaten Federer in the 2009 final. He has also won a record-equalling six Roland Garros trophies, two Wimbledon crowns, and completed the career Grand Slam when he defeated Djokovic in the 2010 US Open final.
The Mallorcan, who had defeated his long-time rival Federer in four sets in the semi-finals on Thursday night, dropped to a 10-5 mark in major finals.
"Good morning everybody," joked Nadal as he started his runner-up speech at 1:50am. "Congratulations to Novak and his team, they deserve it, they are doing something fantastic, so congratulations. To start the season here and play this fantastic match against Novak is, I believe, a fantastic start."
In his post-match press conference, Nadal admitted, "I'm tired. Physically [it] was the toughest match I ever played. I think we played a great tennis match. It was, I think, a very good shown. I enjoyed being part of this event and this match.
"I wanted to win, but I am happy about how I did. I had my chances against the best player in the world today.I played one against one. I didn't play at lower level than him for a long time, so that's a very positive thing for me. I am very happy about my mentality tonight, the mentality worked like in my best moments.
"Yes, I had big chance for the 5-2 [in the fifth set]. I had that easy passing shot with the backhand. I miss it, yes, but I was 4-3, 0/40 in the fourth [set], too. Anything can happen when the match is there."