Novak Djokovic claims 11th Grand Slam title in Melbourne

Andy Murray loses in straight sets in below-par men’s Australian Open final

Novak Djokovic is Australian Open champion for the sixth time, equalling Roy Emerson's record, but it is unlikely he will be spending much time analysing a final in which he eked out a sub-par 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3) win over Andy Murray in Melbourne on Sunday night.

We were left with a familiar impression: Djokovic does everything Murray does, only better. But when they lapsed into mistakes of their own making, the Scot’s 65 were more telling, more regular, more hurtful than the Serb’s 41.

It was Djokovic’s fourth win over Murray in the final of these championships – and the most ordinary – and his 11th in their past 12 matches. Djokovic now has 11 Majors, and should overtake Rafael Nadal’s 14 within a year or so, then set about passing Roger Federer’s 17. This year? The world No 1 will again be in the hunt for a calendar Grand Slam – but this was an inauspicious beginning to his campaign.

Murray, meanwhile, has racked up five losing finals at the same slam, an open era record he will not be shouting about – although, as he says, he has done well to reach those finals, the first of which came against Federer in 2010.


Murray raised a laugh when he said courtside: “I feel like I’ve been here before. Congratulations Novak, six Australian Opens, an incredible feat, and incredible consistency the last year.

“Thanks to my own team, too. Sorry I didn’t get it done tonight, it’s been a tough few weeks for me away from the court, and I thank you all for your support. It’s very, very tough for me right now but I do appreciate playing in front of all you people. Amazing atmosphere.

“Finally, to my wife Kim, who’s going to be watching back home. You’ve been a legend the past two weeks. Thanks for your support and I’ll be on the next flight home.”

Djokovic added: “I need to pay respect to Andy for another great tournament. Tough final, tough luck, Andy. You’re a great player, great friend. I would also like to wish you and Kim a very happy delivery of your baby and I hope you will experience a feeling like no other, because that’s what happened to me and my wife.”

For long stretches in the two hours and 53 minutes the match lasted, the pair hit unexplored depths of mutual awfulness, interspersed with rallies worth their place in any highlights reel.

Both of them have played significantly better than this, especially against each other, in their 30 previous encounters stretching back to 2006. All but seven of those were in Tour finals or semi-finals; eight of them were in Slams, including five finals. But this did not fit that template of excellence. Nor did it match the occasion.

“This is the worst match I’ve ever played,” Murray was heard to say within earshot of his perplexed coach, Amélie Mauresmo, but there was no sharing the blame for this one, no excuses to be laid at the door of others, or circumstances beyond his control.

Their biggest challenge was to keep a straight face during the presentation ceremony. It was difficult to comprehend that these were the same players who entertained us in the semi-final here for four hours and 50 minutes of memorable, fighting tennis in 2012.

Murray looked unusually relaxed – or was it resigned? He'd been up until the early hours after watching his brother Jamie win the doubles title with Bruno Soares, not ideal preparation for a Grand Slam final against the world No 1, who had beaten him 21 times already. "What are you doing here taking photos?" Jamie asked him during his courtside victory speech on Saturday.

“You should be in bed.” He occasionally looked as if he still was.

A break passed him by within two minutes as Djokovic searched for his rhythm, and he handed the Serb a two-love lead with his first double-fault.

In the third game, when he failed to hunt down a drop shot that would normally be a routine get for him, concerns rose that he was not at his sharpest.

His balance and timing were way off and shot after shot billowed the net or went long. When he hit long to go 0-4 down, there were grumbles of discontent around Rod Laver Arena among fans who did not feel they were getting a proper contest for their money.

Murray continually glanced towards his box, but his looks were not accompanied by his usual exhortations for noise and support. He appeared distracted and disengaged; had he been alerted to news from London about the impending arrival of his first child? Jamie said he could not bear to watch from his brother’s box and would catch as much of it as he could in the players’ lounge before heading for a midnight flight back to the UK. The way the match was going, his brother could well have joined him.

Murray won only five points in the first 20 minutes, and those almost irrelevant crumbs as Djokovic coasted towards five-love. Serving to avoid the dreaded bagel (there had not been one in the opening set of a championship final here since 1953), Murray struggled to loosen himself from his torpor, finally rousing the crowd with a magnificent crosscourt forehand that left his opponent stranded at the net. Somehow, he held.

“Let’s go Andy, let’s go!” sang his fans – a little late, perhaps. Djokovic had good support in the crowd, too, with several Serbian flags dotted around the arena, and they inched forward as he served for the set.

Nearly half an hour after his first break chance, Murray got another but wasted it. On the half hour, the champion was a set up – and what a weird set of tennis it was.

Looking less anxious, Murray let his arms hit more freely through the ball in the second set. His ball-striking was more assured. He roared like the lion of old when a Djokovic forehand went wide, louder when he induced a shaky backhand from him to hold – and go in front for the first time in the match after 37 minutes.

Murray paused on serve at the start of the third game as a plane passed. A double-fault, four aces, four break points, a time warning, an interjection from the crowd in the middle of his ball-toss and a few minutes later, he held. Nobody ever accused Murray of being predictable.

All the while, Djokovic seemed an incidental bystander. He played neither brilliantly nor poorly. In fact, he did little more than let the drama take its course, holding without fuss then waiting for Murray to implode.

The Scot was plainly angry with himself, but seemed trapped by his own inertia. Even his self-flagellatory screaming was subdued. But a rare and wonderful point to hold for 3-2 – passing Djokovic tight at the net after an artful exchange of drop-shots and lobs – hit the excitement button.

In a slow-burning contest with no reliable patterns, Murray now had captured majority support in the stands and seemed to respond to their urgings.

But a welter of unforced errors in a long, nervous seventh game cost him his serve, and Djokovic – his own level hardly stratospheric – surely thought the set was his to lose.

However, when Murray hit the line with a sizzling backhand to break back immediately, there was hope that a proper fight might now ensue, rather than an embarrassing collection of mistakes masquerading as a Grand Slam final.

It had taken the two best players in the world an hour and 20 minutes to rack up 50 unforced errors between them. What was worrying for Murray was that he had hit the majority of those, 29, and a lot of them were training-level, memory-bank shots, carelessly executed at the wrong time.

Still, he saved two break points to hold for 5-4 at the third attempt, and, for the first time, the pressure was on Djokovic after 90 minutes of unbelievably ragged tennis.

He held, saved three break points, and was as surprised as anyone when Murray hit long to blow a golden chance to level at a set apiece.

In the 12th game, Djokovic handed Murray break point with a double-fault. Murray duly returned the favour, hitting long, then into the net, and the Serb had a two-set lead for which he had not had to work that hard.

Djokovic, 171-1 in his career when two sets up, probably anticipated a routine stroll to win No 172. Murray, however, had enough perversity left in his bones to make a fight of it, to give the final a perhaps misleading veneer of respectability.

He nonetheless played some of his most assured tennis in the third set, striking the ball sweetly and with more conviction to get to a tie-break, but then it all fell to pieces.

Murray, whose serve had held steady in his fightback, double-faulted twice in the first four points, to an ace by his opponent, who led 5-1 at the turnaround. Murray aced to save one of five championship points but, at 6-3 on serve, the champion kept his crown with his seventh ace of the match.

“We still love you, Andy,” someone shouted from the crowd – probably more than the player could say for himself at that moment.

(Guardian service)