Sublime Djoker on song
As Andy Murray smashed a return into the net late on Sunday, Novak Djokovic wrote his name into the history books, becoming the first men’s tennis player to win five Australian Open titles in the Open era.
It’s a record shared by three players at the US Open and just behind Roger Federer and Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal’s incredible nine French Open titles are simply unprecedented.
But unlike Nadal’s feat at Roland Garros, Djokovic’s Australian Open legacy will perhaps not see the Serbian go down as one of the greatest players in the modern era. That’s due to his Grand Slam record away from Melbourne Park which leaves a lot to be desired for a player of his ilk, having won just three of nine finals elsewhere.
But the Serbian has well and truly established himself as one of the greatest to grace Rod Laver Arena and solidified that position in Sunday’s final. A hard fought 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-0 victory over long-time bunny Murray wasn’t without hiccups. The world no.1 found it difficult to consolidate breaks and struggled throughout the second set with what appeared like an ankle injury. But typically, Djokovic soldiered on, outclassing his opponent with superior ability to cover the court and with a more aggressive approach. The Serbian ran harder when required, held his nerve when prompted with opportunities in tie-breaks and never strayed from playing his shots, easing to a rather comfortable conclusion to the match. It secured a fourth Australian Open crown in five years and a fifth overall, three of which have been against Murray, the others against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2008 and Nadal in 2012. The burden of facing Djokovic here is one that has long lived with Murray and one that the Scot will be desperate to eventually overcome.
However, despite appearing to have battled through mental setbacks which stemmed from four straight Major final defeats between 2008 and 2012, Murray is still dealing with another long-term personal demon. Despite victories over Djokovic in the 2012 US Open final and the 2013 Wimbledon final, Murray has never been able to conquer the Serb Down Under. Sunday’s defeat was his fourth in an Australian Open final and his third to Djokovic. It came despite having the World No.1 on the ropes throughout a pulsating second set. Having gone 2-0 up, he had the throat of what looked like an injured Djokovic at his feet. However, the Serbian battled on and won four straight games to take the set to a tie-break. Although Murray triumphed 7-4, Djokovic had regained his rhythm and momentum.
A 6-3 third-set victory was followed by the most emphatic of 6-0 wins in the final set with Djokovic throwing his racket into the crowd in one joyous act of celebration. Murray, meanwhile, was smashing his in the distant background as yet more frustration at the hands of Djokovic continued. The two reactions couldn’t have contrasted further but they did paint a perfect picture of recent fortunes at Melbourne Park.
Murray can be proud of his comeback from ongoing back injuries through the last 18 months, having not made a Major final in nearly two years. But while greener pastures may lie ahead, another gruelling defeat will no doubt etch another scar into the Scot’s mindset.
For Djokovic, an elusive French Open title is what the Serbian would crave most but for the time being, a fifth Australian Open title would be feeling just as sweet.