Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning championship point. Photo: Getty Images
Novak Djokovic was on his way to Tullamarine Airport early on Monday morning. At the same time 12 months earlier, his Australian Open final against Rafael Nadal was still going on. And on.
The only day-after appointment for the first man in the Open era to claim three consecutive Australian titles was a flight to Belgium, for Serbia's Davis Cup tie. The time for celebrating will come.
There was time for the obvious question of what Djokovic desires next, although the French Open is still 117 days away. The clay-court major is the only grand slam championship Djokovic has not won. Four Australian Opens, one Wimbledon, one US Open.
Australian Open, Men's Final
Andy Murray and Noval Djokovic before the the men's final. Photo: Joe Armao
Roger Federer, of course, had to wait far longer, the Swiss having swept 13 singles majors before his euphoric moment in Paris in 2009 completed a treasured set. Nadal was next, at Flushing Meadows in 2010.
Only seven men have claimed all four singles slams; there is no question that Djokovic would like to make it eight.
"Of course, I want to go all the way in French Open," the 25-year-old said before leaving Melbourne Park for chilly Charleroi, and the first-round world group tie. "I went to the finals last year and had a great match against Rafa, but he's always the favourite on that surface and he's the ultimate player to beat on clay. But I think if I continue on playing well, stay healthy, I can have a chance."
His immediate priority, though, was to enjoy the 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-2 victory over world No.3 Andy Murray, a grinding performance over three hours, 40 minutes in which the sport's two best returners could not conjure a service break between them until the 32nd game. It was more about attrition than aesthetics; the weary Scot pained by blisters, and Djokovic admitting that after a tense first set he had endured a mind-related "little physical crisis" of his own.
"In life, you don't get many of the opportunities to win grand slams," Djokovic said. "As a tennis player, that's a pinnacle of the ambitions and of the success. So I try to enjoy it for few days with the people I love the most: family, friends, and team. And then after I turn to the rest of the season.
''It's Davis Cup already coming up, indoors, clay courts next weekend, so that's going to be a lot of fun. And then, after that, obviously there is still four or five months until the French Open."
The crucial hold on Sunday was from 0-40 in the second game of the second set, with Murray starting to dominate but missing a backhand down the line on his second break chance. He had just four opportunities, all unconverted, in the match.
"After that I felt just mentally a little bit lighter and more confident on the court than I've done in the first hour or so," said Djokovic, having triumphed again on what he says is his favourite court. His results brook no argument.
"Also adding to that the history part, winning it three in a row, it's incredible," said the winner of four of the past eight major titles, and twice year-end world No.1. "It's very thrilling. I'm full of joy right now. It's going to give me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season, that's for sure."
And yet he was not the best player in his fourth-round match against Stan Wawrinka, he admits, with that narrow escape steeling Djokovic for what was to come.
Asked whether the chasing pack is closing in on those at the top, he answered dutifully about not underestimating the rest of the field, before confirming what has been so obvious. "I guess the top four are the most dominant ones in the last five years." Indeed.
Murray needed treatment for an uncomfortable blister, which pained rather than compromised a player who had lost two toenails during his US Open final against the same punishing opponent. More of an issue, probably, was the slight leg-weariness that was a legacy of his four-hour semi against Federer on Friday night, a full day after Djokovic had already romped past David Ferrer.
Predictably, Murray was asked about the scheduling issue, unique among grand slams, although it should also be pointed out that four of the five previous champions had come from the later semi-final.
Just as reliably, tournament director Craig Tiley said there would be no change to a system that guarantees at least one day off for both finalists and has served the event well.
Not that Murray was complaining. Having won his first set in three Australian Open finals, but still no title, the sometimes-dour Briton was more chirpy than after his previous four losses in grand slam finals, with far fewer doubts that he belongs, and is capable. He has won a major now, after all, and so feels calmer and more comfortable with where he is, what he can do.
"There is going to be some obvious reasons for me feeling a little bit better," he said. "I mean, the last few months have been the best tennis of my life. I made the Wimbledon final, won the Olympics, won the US Open. You know, I was close here as well. It was close. I know no one's ever won a slam, the immediate one after winning their first one. It's not the easiest thing to do. And I got extremely close.
"So I have to try and look at the positives of the last few months, and I think I'm going in the right direction. This is the first time I've beaten Roger in a slam over five sets. I think I dealt with the situations and the ebbs and flows in that match well. I felt much more comfortable on the court today than even I did at the US Open, so that has to be a positive."
Earlier, Djokovic was presented with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup by another four-time champion, Andre Agassi.
The American has been acknowledged for the way his attacking baseline game changed tennis, in an era still heavy with serve and volleyers. So, has it been altered by Djokovic, the master defender who can switch to offence in a blink?
"I leave you guys to judge about changing the game or not," said Djokovic. "I'm just trying to play this game with 100 per cent of devotion, love, passion, and fun also. I mean, [I'm] 25 years old and I won six grand slams and have a lot of trophies. It's amazing. I'm just trying to embrace this moment and enjoy it as much as I can and see where tomorrow brings me."
There was time for a hastily arranged photo shoot, before the dash to catch the flight, which - after the first two sets had each lasted more than an hour – appeared to be leaving too soon. But Djokovic made it, as well as a little more history. And with Roland Garros next, perhaps there will be more to come.