Novak Djokovic triumphed over Andy Murray 6-7 7-6 6-3 6-2 to win his third consecutive Australian Open title, and thus become the first player in the 45 year open era to achieve this feat. It was a gruelling match that lasted 3 hours and 40 minutes, and gives the Serb his sixth grand slam title, and fourth Australian Open.
With Roger Federer approaching the twilight of his career, and injury concerns still hanging over Rafael Nadal, this is the rivalry that looks set to be at the centre of men’s tennis for several years to come. After their previous two grand slam encounters both lasted five sets in dramatic fashion, there were high hopes that this would be another classic that would go all the way.
In the opening set it was high quality tennis right from the off. The first opportunity for either player came in the sixth game, where Djokovic had four break points. Yet, Murray bravely saved each of them, as well as another break point in his next service game. This was the first real battle in the first set and the Scot came out on top. However, he could not make inroads into the Djokovic serve throughout the opening set and consequently, he had to hold firm on his own service games to send it to first set tie-break, just like their US Open final last year.
An uncharacteristic double fault from the Serb gave Murray the initiative right from the start of the tie break, and the Scot followed it up with some great points to take a .6-1 lead, and it was first blood to Murray as he eventually took the tie break 7-2. It was a tremendous tie break from the Scot, coupled with some unexpected errors from the world number one.
Murray was perhaps taking more chances from the back of the court, and therefore dictating more of the rallies than his opponent. This seemed to be the deciding factor in the match, whoever was able to be more aggressive and dictate the points was likely to come out on top
After failing to take his chances in the opening set, Djokovic seemed mentally fragile at the start of the second. He lost his composure several times, but was able to save three break points in the first game to stop Murray’s momentum, which turned out to be crucial in the context of both the set and the match. The Scot acknowledged this after the match, “Probably my biggest chance was at the beginning of the second set; didn’t quite get it.”
Before the match, Murray stated he was ready for the pain of a prolonged match, and as expected it was developing into an extremely physical match. Such was the quality of tennis on show, both players continued to hold their serve and were serving up a treat for the crowd in the Rod Laver Arena, and perhaps fittingly the set once again went to a tie break.
At 2-2 in the tie break, a feather fell down on the court, distracting Murray, before he double faulted to give Djokovic a decisive lead in the tie break. This was just the opening he needed, and he subsequently powered through the rest of the tie break to level it up at one set all, capping off two high quality, yet gruelling sets of tennis, lasting over two hours in total. To put this into perspective, Djokovic’s semi-final win against David Ferrer lasted less than an hour and a half in total.
There was a lull in the action prior to the third set as Murray needed treatment on a nasty looking blister on right foot. Whilst it looked painful it did not seem to be affecting his movement, despite the grimaces on his face.
As the third set progressed, the importance of that first break of serve was becoming increasingly apparent. Finally, after 2 hours and 52 minutes on court, Djokovic got the crucial break to lead 5-3. And, he confidently served out to wrap up the set 6-3. Murray seemed worn out, and looked as if he was running out of ideas against the incessant and relentless efforts of the defending champion.
The Serb had upped his level, and Murray had no answer as the world number one was relishing the physicality of the match. He was playing more aggressively, and combined with his ever present defensive capabilities, it was proving too much for the third seed.
He explained his tactics after the match, “I tried to be more aggressive.”
“So I went for my shots, especially in the third and fourth; came to the net quite often. I was quite successful in that percentage, so it worked well for me.”
“I needed to be the one who dictates the play, and I’m really glad that I’ve played my best.”
Murray managed to escape in his first service game of the fourth set, but after passing up a break point opportunity of his own in the next game, Djokovic prevailed and took a 3-1 lead, and this was to be the break that finally broke the Murray resolve. A second break of serve then followed as he put the final nail in the coffin, serving out the match out for a historic win.
After the match, Djokovic’s joy at winning another grand slam was plain to see: “It’s an incredible feeling winning this trophy again.”
“It’s definitely my favourite Grand Slam, my most successful Grand Slam. I love this court.”
“Winning it three in a row, it’s incredible,” he said. “It’s going to give me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season, that’s for sure.”
In winning, Djokovic keeps his incredible Australian Open record going, his last defeat came in 2010 to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Murray alluded to this after the match, “His record here is obviously incredible.”
It was a privilege to watch a match where both players are approaching the peak of their careers, and it looks set to be a match-up that will be repeated in many grand slam finals in future. But as Boris Becker pointed out, the rivalry between the two is now “the present, not the future.” For now, Djokovic is the undisputed world number one, and it will take a herculean effort to knock him off the top spot. Nevertheless, if anyone can do it, then Murray looks the one best placed to do so.