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- Djokovic v Murray: As it happened
Let's face it: if Novak Djokovic could, he would fold up Andy Murray and take him around the world with him in a suitcase. He might even think of it as taking a bunny home to toddler son Stefan. In another case, he would have rolled up the Melbourne Park court. As it was, upon winning this sixth Australian championships, he bent to kiss and pat it. The proliferation of trophies Murray and the court have yielded to him he would have to send on ahead.
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Novak Djokovic beats rival Andy Murray in three sets at the Australian Open championships in Melbourne.
Djokovic would never put it like that, of course. He is too gracious, and too noble, and he and Murray go back too far. But at the Australian Open, Murray's record now is 0-5 in finals, losing four times to Djokovic. "I feel like I've been here before," Murray said on the podium. Ditto, Djokovic might have said. He is a perfect 6-0 in finals here.
In all major finals, Murray is 2-7, a galling ledger. All have been against Djokovic or Roger Federer. Would you not think fate might have served up to him at least one Marcos Baghdatis, say, or a Jo-Wilfried Tsonga?
But the science is settled, and so is the psychology. Murray has been in the top four for going on 10 years, and was a clear No 2 last year, but never has been No 1. Against No 1s generally, he has lost 12 of his last 13 matches. Against Djokovic, it is 11 of their last 12, since Murray's famous Wimbledon win in 2013, and 22 of 30 across their careers. He is as he was on Sunday night, the Djoker's straight man.
Murray could have clung to one sliver of hope on Sunday night. If Djokovic has an Achilles heel, it is where heels generally are to be found, at the end of a given leg. In the whole of 2015, the only matches he lost were finals, including one even to Murray. In finals in majors across his career, he was 10-8. But in Melbourne, he was 5-0, and Murray of all players did not need to look that up.
In any case, it was a forlorn hope. This final picked up where last year's fizzled out. At 5-0 in the first set, Djokovic had won his last 14 games against Murray on Rod Laver arena. He was measurably and at times profoundly the better player. He hit the ball so deep, so often, from both wings, to both sides of the court, that it was all Murray could do to hit it back into play. There were no histrionics from the Scot then; there was nothing to say.
Djokovic in this form projects the idea that he sometimes knows where Murray's next shot is going before even Murray does. It is not an accident. "I prepare myself best for Nadal, Federer and Murray," he said. "It's easier said than done, but I manage to find the right formula for Andy." That will give no comfort to Murray. In terms of the rigour and austerity they practise, there is nothing between them. The scoreline should be more even than this.
At length, the terms evened out this night. Murray found his range, limiting Djokovic's. For 20 and 30 shots at a time, neither gave the other a glimpse with which to work. Passing shots were rare because there were no passages. If arguments sometimes are likened to tennis matches, this tennis match could be likened to an argument, point, point, point gainsaid, point. For a time, the Scot was the most dogmatic, also the most bellicose. Would he bluster his way back into this match yet?
The last pass came. Murray led 40-0 on serve, but lost it; Djokovic would not let this bone go. Serving for the set next game, even this metronomic player felt a tremor and sent down five faults in a row. Fortunately for him, the fifth went undetected, and with two deep breaths to still his mechanism, he shut the gate and jammed it. Without getting to a tie-breaker, the set had run for 80 minutes.
If you were to split a hair, you might say that Murray's game is so rooted in defence that when there arises the need to play another way, he can't. He did not play a serve-volley point this night. Djokovic played only one, but Djokovic had no need to play more than one.
The fight in Murray did not shrivel up as it did last year, but the task was too big, the mountain was too high. And mountains don't lower themselves to accommodate even the best provisioned climbers. Murray has found his place as a kind of K2 to Everest, except that Everest changes name from time to time. He won't abandon his mission, but no wonder he projects such a tormented image on court. Second-best should be shared around. After all, best has been throughout his time in tennis.
But all is not lost. All may not even matter particularly. Fatherhood did Roger Federer no harm, and it has borne Djokovic to new peaks. Evidently, reproduction is good for production. Murray was married last year, and is soon to become a father, and one thought insists: poor Kim, his wife, with all that howling. But for now, Murray remains haplessly cast as tennis' eternal bridesmaid.