Djokovic inflicts more pain on Murray
TENNIS:Andy Murray wanted pain and he got it but it was sharper than it was long. And this time there was no dividend. He knew his best chance of taking Novak Djokovic’s Australian Open title from him was a drawn out struggle similar to the one over nearly five hours in New York four months ago, when he drained the energy from the Serb’s legs to win his first grand slam title.
On the Rod Laver Arena on a warm and gentle evening, blood and blisters first delivered the agony, then played at least a small part in cutting it short (although Murray made no excuses) as, his right foot wrapped and anaesthetised, he could not match the champion for movement in the closing stages of a four-set final that ebbed away from him.
By the attritional standards of the modern game, Djokovic took a relatively whizzbang three hours and 40 minutes to win 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-2 and complete a hat-trick of titles here (the first to do so since Roy Emerson), to go with his first Australian championship five years ago.
This time, he did not want what Murray wanted: a dogfight. He wanted as quick a kill as he could devise. “All our matches in the past three years have been decided in a very few points,” Djokovic said. Here he won 139 points to 126, not a huge margin over four sets.
“So it’s really hard to say if I’ve done anything different tonight to what I did in New York. But I tried to be more aggressive. I went for my shots, especially in the third and fourth sets, came to the net quite often [winning the point 35 times in 41 visits]. It worked well for me. I needed to be the one who dictated the play and I’m really glad that I’ve played my best.”
Djokovic, naturally, loves this place. Murray does too. But maybe not so much. He suffered to the point of tears in the final against Roger Federer in 2010 and did not enjoy his three-set humiliation against Djokovic in 2011. Here he played much better than that, while not getting anywhere near the level of Flushing Meadows in September. No tears at bedtime, though. He handles defeat so much better than he once did and that is part of the process too.
Murray played down the inconvenience of having to get through the final two sets with his right foot wrapped to guard against further irritation to blisters that needed pain-freezing spray. Nor did he blame the scheduling and the rigours of a four hour semi-final against Federer, while Djokovic had an extra day’s rest after a veritable stroll in his semi-final against David Ferrer.
“I had no taping on my foot during Roger’s match,” Murray said, “and then obviously I had to have it done today. I very rarely get blisters. But 90 per cent of the players on the tour will have played this tournament with some sort of blister or problem. It had no bearing at all on the result. It just hurts a bit when you run.”
It was not the sort of suffering he had in mind before the match. While he wanted to use the enormous store of stamina built up in his winter training camp in Miami, ultimately he had to fight on a different front, as Djokovic controlled the stuttering pace.
Murray did well to hold him off in the first set, capitalising on a lapse in focus to take the tie-break. He started well in the second but could not build on three break points in the second game and paid for it when Djokovic hit a new level to take the second tie-break.
They went a remarkable 30 games before a break in serve; when it came, the cards tumbled to the table for Murray, although he gave it his best all the way to the end. The serve, as ever, was crucial. “I was serving better against him today in the first two sets than I’ve done in any of the matches in the last two years,” Djokovic said.
“But I know that he’s an incredible returner and has that ability to make you play always an extra shot. To be able to get a lot of free points on the serve was definitely a positive.”
Ivan Lendl can look back on a wonderful first year as Murray’s coach. “I thought he had a very good tournament,” he said. “He played a tough match with Roger, played a very tough match with Novak, and he did very well the first five matches. It’s disappointing not to win but you just have to keep putting yourself in those situations and some of them will come your way eventually.
“As I said in New York, there’s so little in it. If Andy had broken for 2-0 in the second set, who knows what might have happened? He could have run away with it. But these are very little margins.
“That’s why I don’t want to talk about strategies and weaknesses, and I never will. Two or three points, that’s all. I was just looking at the points and Novak won 13 points more than Andy – 13 points is nothing; 6-3, 6-2 looks comfortable but it was only 13 points in the match.
“But Novak produced a lot of good shots when he really had to, just like Roger did the other night. He played stronger as the match went on. He played like a number one player should play.”
However, Lendl is convinced Murray is on an upward path. “Oh yeah, and it will be [like that] until the end of Andy’s career. He is getting better and he is getting closer.
“Other than when he lost to Novak here in 2011, he has always played the number one player in the world in the finals and those are difficult to win. [Andre] Agassi beat Rainer Schuttler, I beat [Miroslav] Mecir. I’m not trying to say they were bad players, however they were not number one at the time they were in the finals.
“This is the era the way it is, the top four are clearly better than everyone else. You don’t get number seven in the finals. Andy didn’t have any of those yet. Of course, when you get them, you have to take advantage of that as well, but it’s just a tough era.
“I just hope Andy will keep putting himself in position and something will come his way again.” And he will, no doubt, welcome the sacrifice.