Australian Open 2015: Determined Djokovic closes out Murray for fifth title

Novak Djokovic beats Andy Murray 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 6-0 to win his fifth Australian Open title in Melbourne

If ever there was a rivalry of small margins, it was the one between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

Born precisely one week apart, they had known each other and played one another since junior days, and although Djokovic was now the best in the world, the No1, the owner of seven Grand Slams—four of them from the Australian Open—and led their head-to-head 15-8, Murray had never been far off his pace.

The Briton won his first title in the same year, 2006, reached his first Major a year after Djokovic had, went on to win Olympic gold and thus far two Grand Slams of his own, both won against Djokovic.

And when it came to their six previous Major meetings, most had been long, tough, arduous and gripping. In their last, at the US Open, they split the first two sets in tie-breaks. In their last Australian Open meeting, the 2013 final, they did the same. And in the one before that, again in New York, they went to five sets, sharing the first two 7-6(10), 7-5. All encapsulated a rivalry between baseline masters, counter-punchers par excellence, but both capable of nice net work, angles, and tactical brilliance in turning defence into attack with one penetrating shot.

Here now was their seventh Grand Slam meeting, their fifth in a final, their fourth in Australia, and once again the margins were as paper-thin as their age-difference. Once again they opened with a tie break each, with 42 points each in the first and 44 to 43 in the second.

Even the clock was in accord: at exactly one hour, they were 6-6. At two hours, 4-4 in the second set. At three hours, they stood at a tie-break each, 3-3, and 98 points apiece.

But at that final stopping point, the path of Djokovic suddenly veered away from Murray’s as the gap grew ever wider to reach a record landmark for the Serb and another disappointment for the Briton.

Yet those figures, those points, those minutes ticking over on the clock, hid huge swings between these two determined, super-fit athletes.

Murray showed his colours early, winning the opening point of the match on the Djokovic serve with a volley winner, only for the Serb to show that he would do all within his power to keep Murray pinned back, even if it meant coming to the net himself. He did just that to win the game.

Murray had the first opening, too, earned by more aggressive, first-strike tennis—three winners onto the sidelines—but could not convert three break points. Instead, the score swung swiftly in the opposite direction, with Djokovic firing three winners to break for 3-1.

As their chess-like rallies went deeper and longer, each forced more breaks before Murray held to love for 5-5, and again for 6-6, and he led 4-2 in the tie-break until a double fault and careless long volley handed the advantage back, and Djokovic duly obliged to serve it out 7-5(5).

The second set was a near mirror image of the first, this time Murray taking the early break as Djokovic looked to be in physical difficulties with a scraped thumb and an ankle twinge after a slip on the court. Yet in the blink of an eye, Djokovic was back to his precise and incisive best to break twice for 4-2.

Then an enforced halt in proceedings as protesters were cleared from the court seemed to refocus Murray, injected that early attack into his game, and he broke to level, held to love, and brought up a set-point with another net finish. He blew the chance with a netted backhand and Djokovic survived four deuces: It warranted a raised clench fist in celebration.

But nine minutes later, Murray had cause to pump, too, with three break points and three deuces safely negotiated. And this time, he made no mistake in the tie-break, 7-6(4).

Murray had been tested and not found wanting after more than two and a half hours of quality, probing tennis. His reward was a Djokovic again seemingly on his last legs—either unable or unwilling to chase down Murray’s aggressive shot-making: The Briton took a 2-0 lead.

But the Serb rose once again, put his physical worries behind him, and was all over Murray’s serve not just to level at 3-3 but to race on for a 6-3 set, all the while soaking up the self-berating shouts from Murray’s end of the court. Their paths had taken different courses, never to converge again.

Djokovic fed off Murray’s loss of focus in the most unwavering style to break three times without facing a break point of his own, 6-0, in a 28-minute, 25 points to 11 rout.

The handshake was, by the standards of these rivals, cursory, but there was no doubting Djokovic’s satisfaction at this fifth Australian title:
“I’m so privileged and honoured and grateful to be standing here as a champion for the fifth time, to be in an elite group of players with Sir Roy Emerson and of course Rod Laver and all the legends of the sport. It’s an honour playing in front of you.”

Appropriately enough, it was Roy Emerson, the only man in the tournament’s history to win more often than Djokovic—six times—who presented the trophy. And in a nice rounding off of the day, it notched up Djokovic’s 50th match-win in Melbourne.

The victory is, of course, highly significant for a champion still in his prime who is arguably still honing his many weapons as well as his tactical astuteness. With his eighth title, he has levelled with former champions such as Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Fred Perry—illustrious company indeed. So it will be down to the likes of Murray, now ranked back among the ‘big four’, and former champions and top-four titans, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, to respond.

All the ‘big four’ will also be casting backward glances to the next generation of players who have made their marks at the last few Grand Slams: Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Kei Nishikori in particular.

Who will step up at the remaining three Grand Slams in 2015? And who can halt the doughty Djokovic?

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