New and improved, but not a machine
THE New Andy Murray, born in the middle of 2012, could win the big grand slam matches. He took the Olympic gold from Roger Federer and the US Open final from Novak Djokovic.
Where the jittery Old Murray had his mum in his corner, the New Murray had Ivan Lendl. The difference was slight, yet dramatic. Old Murray faltered in key moments. New Murray didn't, or perhaps such stumbles were less frequent. Old Murray hoped. New Murray believed.
Or so it appeared.
Vanquished: Andy Murray during his defeat on Sunday night. Photo: Wayne Taylor
In the end, the New Murray was still bothered by blisters and his demise might have been triggered by a feather that floated in his path, interrupting him during a match-turning tie-breaker.
New Murray wanted a painful match. He got one.
Like New Labour under Tony Blair, New Murray was committed to winning and had a ruthless touch. He recognised the need for a harder edge to turn repeat defeat into victory. So he changed, adding the impassive Ivan Lendl in the same way that Blair would bring in a spin doctor to massage the message.
Nouveau Murray had travelled a vast distance in a short time. He had buried the Federer bogey and vanquished both his own doubts, Batman-style, and the Djoker in Gotham City.
But the Djoker's not-so-secret headquarters is really here in Melbourne, where he won three titles. To take down the Djoker on Rod Laver Arena was a vastly different proposition to arresting him on the pavement (plexipave) of Gotham. At the presentation, a composed Murray would say of the relationship between Djokovic and Melbourne: ''His record here is incredible.''
Murray 2.0 is superior to Murray 1.0. This did not mean he was better than Djokovic on the rubbery court, where the Djoker slides but seldom slips. Murray also had the disadvantage of having played Federer in five sets over four hours in his semi, compared to Djokovic's straight sets, 90-minute rout of David Ferrer a day earlier. Hell of difference in that missing syllable.
This New Murray took the first set by refusing to capitulate, as the Old Murray surely would have, when facing multiple break points. He fended off no fewer than four in one game (at 2-3) and five for the set.
Then, playing a more conservative brand of tennis than Djokovic and consequently producing fewer errors, Murray owned the tie-breaker, in which the momentum was established when the Djoker double-faulted on the first point. Murray took the next three points, and then the tie-breaker 7-2.
Murray then let the Djoker escape, in what in hindsight was a defining game - the first one of the second set. New Murray had 0-40 on Novak's serve. Djokovic, clinging on still held. He would never again get such an opportunity to break Djokovic.
Murray served superbly for most of the second set, but he was unable to break his opponent, who began to slowly turn the screws. While the Scot relied heavily on landing first serves, he still clearly was ascendant in the course of this break-less set.
The moment when the match shifted abruptly came at 2-2 in the second set tie-breaker. Murray faulted on his first serve and was preparing to serve again when he was distracted and stopped. He had spotted a feather floating in his path. He retrieved the feather, but one sensed that his concentration had been affected. The second serve was long. Double fault.
Djokovic had the mini-break, and for the first time in the match, we had seen an Old Murray moment. Djokovic swept the tie-breaker.
Murray sent for the trainer immediately after the second set setback, receiving treatment for what seemed to be blisters on his left foot. This was an ominous sign of not simply physical wearing, but of the mind wavering.
How bad was the foot and what role had it played in Murray's disappointing fade? Perhaps it was significant.
Murray, however, would not use the blister as a crutch.
"It's not something that stops you from running," he said.
It could be that the Federer match had told only after those two very long opening sets.
What followed over the course of the next two sets was a gradual, yet inexorable decline for Murray, who would be broken for the first time - the first break of the match - at 3-4 in the third set.
By early fourth set, we could all see that the New Murray, despite the giant leap forward in 2012, had not completely banished the Old one, and he was not yet to equal to the Current Djokovic. Not in Melbourne. Not yet.