As the sound of The Jackson 5’s ‘ABC’ drowned out the end of the Australian Open men’s singles final (in the Rule), it seemed oddly appropriate – Andy Murray had been handed a lesson in how to win by Novak Djokovic.
The Serbian World No. 1 won the match in four sets, 6-7 (2-7) 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 6-2. After a incredibly even two hours’ play, Murray’s foot slipped off the pedal and Djokovic took full advantage to romp to a deserved victory.
It is Murray’s fifth Grand Slam final loss, his third in Melbourne, and it would seem that he is just a few per cent short in terms of mental strength compared to the very top players – or the top player, Djokovic.
Things had started well for Murray. After a dodgy start that saw Djokovic (pictured) come close to breaking in two of the British No. 1’s service games, his first serve improved at just the right time and he dominated the end of set tie-break, cantering to a 7-2 win.
But then things began to go wrong. Murray was 40-0 up on the Serb’s first service game of the second set, but allowed those break points to slip away. A costly chance to miss. With neither player able to break their opponent’s serve, the match went into a second tie-break, but this time it was Djokovic who took it to level up the match.
From there it was all Djokovic. He was largely untroubled on his own serve, and finally broke Murray to go 5-3 up in the third set, which he successfully served out.
There were chances of a break for Murray in the fourth set, but Djokovic slammed the door shut as soon as Murray had the temerity to peek inside. The Serb then broke his opponent twice more to seal his third consecutive Australian Open title, a record in the Open era.
For me, this seemed to be a flashback to the old Andy Murray. Competitive for the first couple of sets, then struck down by exhaustion and/or injury and tamely waving goodnight.
Perhaps I’m being harsh. He had fewer hours of recovery from his semi final than Djokovic, and indeed he needed five sets to see off Roger Federer – although a bit more composure at certain points (i.e. tie-breaks) and he could have won that match in considerably less time. So Murray was exhausted, and was certainly not moving well by the end of the match.
Those things aside, we also saw the aggressive game that had seen off Federer retreat into its shell against Djokovic. Murray played this match on the baseline, rarely daring to step in to attack the Serb. The key stat here: Djokovic won 35 of 41 net points – Murray nine of 15. So Djokovic went for almost three times as many net points, a huge difference in style and mentality.
Overall, although Murray had fewer unforced errors (46 to Djokovic’s 61), his toned-down aggression translated into only 29 winners to Djokovic’s 47. Combined with a less effective serve (seven aces and five double faults, compared to 21 and none against Federer), this meant that Murray was on the back foot throughout.
Even in winning the first set, he was hanging on to the more aggressive Djokovic. In that set he clung on successfully and won the tie break at the point where his best form and Djokovic’s worst coincided. He clung on well in the second set too, his serve doing enough to keep him in it, but he then lost the tie-break and suffered something of a collapse thereafter.
Djokovic: the best
I am doing something of a disservice to Djokovic by focusing criticism on Murray. Murray, really, was unlucky to come across a man playing as well as Djokovic did. In the 2012 US Open final it was Murray who triumphed with some stunning tennis when Djokovic cracked; here it was roles reversed.
Djokovic, as his ranking implies, is simply the best player out there. He crushes opponents – like David Ferrer in his previous match – like a machine, but he is also capable of the illogically brilliant. There were several shots against Murray today that were as crazy as they were superbly executed.
And, like a machine, he turned his performance up by a level to win today. Murray had stayed with him for two hours, but as soon as he began to tire physically and feel the mental loss of that second tie-break, Djokovic steamed ahead.
At the moment Djokovic is steaming ahead of everyone in the sport. Murray does look to be the best placed of those currently playing to catch him, however, and he is still improving his game. He is capable of matching, even beating, Djokovic (he has done it in one Grand Slam final before), and there is hope that he may do so again. To do that, however, he has to do more than stand at the baseline and admire the Serb’s handiwork.
Today, Djokovic was brilliant. Murray was plucky, yes, but inferior. Whether Djokovic goes on to dominate the next few years of tennis or whether Murray can keep up and be a genuine rival, we shall have to wait and see.