The first big test of the tennis is over and Novak Djokovic proved he is still the best hardcourt player on the planet. Without question. Sunday night in Melbourne the Serb snatched his third straight and fourth overall Australian Open crown besting childhood buddy Andy Murray 6-7(2), 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-2. The win puts Djokovic in rarefied air making him the only player in the Open Era to win three straight in Melbourne.
“Winning it three in a row, it’s incredible,” said Djokovic after the 3-hour, 40-minute duel. “It’s very thrilling. I’m full of joy right now. It’s going to give me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season, that’s for sure.”
The match, though, wasn’t an epic per se as we’ve become use to, and I won’t be re-watching it anytime soon, if ever again. I was ready, at times, to go back to sleep. For the most part it was slow and prodding, but it did pick up late in the second set and early in the third. That after two hours of tennis had already elapsed.
But curiously, considering these were two of the better returners in the game it was strange that early on neither player could break serve. In fact, Murray ended without breaking Novak at all.
Djokovic had opportunities in the first but failed to convert. Murray then had a few in the second, no luck.
Points were typical, though not as long and creative as we’ve seen from them before. A few long rallies, some oohs and aahs, but a lot of errors and lopsided service games. It was good tennis, just not great tennis. I guess we’ve been spoiled that way.
Murray, though, was the first to gain the upper hand. Novak played a sloppy first set breaker and in shades of their US Open encounter, Murray took the opening set in a breaker. It was going the Scot’s way.
And right off the bat in the second Novak slumped in a 0-40 hole in his first service game. At the time Novak looked fidgety and off key. He had a couple of scrapes on his knee and elbow from a first set dive and seemed to be still having shoe issues similar to what he had a week ago against Stan Wawrinka.
But somehow, someway Novak managed to escape eventually pressing a second breaker. Finally some real tension. If Murray wins the set to go up 2-0, it’s over. Djokovic just didn’t let him.
In a crucial moment with Murray serving 2-3, the “feather from God” fell down onto the court and interrupted Murray’s second serve delivery. When he resumed he double faulted giving Novak the mini-break. Whoops! Djokovic pounced and the set went to the 2-time defending champ.
From there it appeared Murray just ran out of steam. Maybe the Roger Federer win took something out of him. Maybe it was the two long sets they had played, but he looked cooked. And against Novak, aka Superman, good luck, because that guy’s not slowing down and giving an inch.
Djokovic comfortably cruised to victory taking the final two sets with relative ease. No shirt rip even needed. And it wasn’t just Murray letdown, Novak raised his level as the match went on. He just got better, stronger and more confident.
“There were a few turning points in the match,” Djokovic said. “Maybe one of them was the second game in the second set when I was 0-40 against the breeze. He missed a few shots. I managed to have that crucial hold. After that I felt just mentally a little bit lighter and more confident on the court than I had done in the first hour or so.”
To his credit, Murray played well at the beginning, really attacking Novak, breaking him down and serving well. He just caught a bad tiebreaker in the second and couldn’t recover.
“At this level it can come down to just a few points here or there,” said Murray. “Probably my biggest chance was at the beginning of the second set; didn’t quite get it. When Novak had his chance at the end of the third, he got his. When you go two sets to one down, you really need to get off to a good start the beginning of the fourth set because most of the guys at the top of the game, when they get a lead and momentum, it’s tough to stop them.”
Djokovic has now won six career Slams, which ties him with greats Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg. And it puts him just behind Mats Wilander and John McEnroe. He’ll reach or maybe even pass them by the end of the year depending on how Rafael Nadal’s return goes.
Luckily for the rest of the guys there are no more events in Melbourne. But I got a feeling Djokovic’s winning days are far from over.
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