Djokovic piles pain on Murray
FOR Novak Djokovic, no shirt ripping this time, no early-morning, record-setting marathon, but still a history-making result. The world No.1 is the first man in the Open era - and third of all time - to win three consecutive Australian titles, his 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-2 defeat of wounded third seed Andy Murray delivering his sixth grand slam title and fourth at Melbourne Park.
Murray had declared he wanted a painful match. He got it. Or a painful result, anyway. And a shockingly blistered foot that the Dr Djokovic who had comically bustled out to treat Henri Leconte during Thursday night's legends match left the experts to handle. This was serious, intense, grand slam finals tennis, and the Australian Open is the Serbian's speciality.
After three hours, 40 minutes, and after a celebratory bellow, a laugh and a dance, he was presented with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup by fellow four-time champion Andre Agassi, the Djokovic name filling the last available vacancy on the famous trophy. But it is hard to imagine there will not be more to come, for he is in his prime at 25, and a relentless master of hardcourt tennis. The other reward this time: a cheque for $2,430,000.
Australian Open, Men's Final
Andy Murray and Noval Djokovic before the the men's final. Photo: Joe Armao
''It's (an) incredible feeling winning this trophy once more. It's definitely my favourite grand slam. My most successful grand slam. I love this court,'' said Djokovic.
It was not a hugely memorable final, with neither a flashy strokeplayer as much as a supreme defensive player, two same-age junior contemporaries who grew into friendly senior rivals. But if Djokovic's grand slam breakthrough came four years earlier, and he retains the superior record, Murray is a different player to the one who lost his first four grand slam finals. The Olympics, then the historic US Open success, changed that. But no one has ever backed up a debut grand slam title with success in the next, and his loss to Djokovic was his third from three Australian Open attempts.
Yet he gained the early advantage, despite being outplayed for much of the first set, Djokovic taken to deuce just once on his serve, while earning all five of the combined break points. The favourite threw himself so desperately into one forehand in the eighth game that he took skin from both elbow and knee, a backhand volley finishing the point that also drew the night's first semblance of a standing ovation. Plus a rare smile from Djokovic himself.
Djokovic played a horrible tie-breaker, opening with a double-fault, finishing with another forehand error, and unable to find a first serve, while Murray did not miss one. The momentum swing continued into the early stages of the second set, as it had at the US Open, the Scot winning the first seven points - for a run of 14 from the past 16 - to earn his first break chances of the match.
But Djokovic rallied to remain on level terms, and it was a hold he desperately needed, for Murray's level had risen, including his serve, and the top seed was in danger of losing touch. His forehand and overall unforced error count were damning, at least by comparison with the more frugal Murray, who was helped by the judicious use of slice, and, as ever, by his outstanding retrieval skills.
Yet, in some ways, the second set mirrored the first, but in reverse, when Murray earned the only break chances, but an untimely double-fault - a bird's feather floating onto the court in between serves - was crucial in in what turned out to be a one-sided tie-breaker. In comparison with the elite-returning pair's previous two grand slam meetings, which produced 35 combined service breaks, not one had come after well over two hours on Rod Laver Arena.
Murray's call for a trainer at one-set-all revealed another, nastier, problem: a horribly blistered right foot that was sprayed and padded and bound before he could resume. Bad news at any time; worse news against a super-fit reflection of self with the unwavering capacity to make you play and play and play.
A break had to come eventually, and it arrived in the eighth game, after almost three hours. While committed and competitive to the end, Murray was clearly troubled by his raw foot, and Djokovic grew stronger the further the match went.
Which was not nearly as far as last year, but the champion of 2008, 2011 and 2012 has never lost the championship match at Melbourne Park, and has won four of the past eight major singles titles, and contested two more finals. The last time Djokovic left Rod Laver Arena on finals night, it had become finals morning, after last year's almost-six-hour epic against Rafael Nadal. An earlier, tidier finish this time. And the pain all Murray's.