January 31, 2016
Novak Djokovic knelt down and kissed the court on Rod Laver Arena, after winning his sixth Australian Open, to match the great Roy Emerson’s record, and join the legendary Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg on eleven Grand Slam titles.
It is an incredible achievement from a man who has taken tennis to a new level, so high that even his closest rivals are beaten almost before they have started. His coach, Boris Becker was in tears after witnessing more sporting greatness at work.
And yet you have to say that it wasn’t terribly hard for Novak this time, not when an emotionally-drained Andy Murray wasted just about every serious opportunity he had to compete at key moments. The last two sets of this 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3) victory sound closer than they were, when in reality the Scot relinquished the vast majority of his chances on the big points.
Maybe his mind was elsewhere. But it was almost as though somewhere deep inside the Brit felt he had no right to win against the better player. And it has been that way for so long.
Djokovic has won all their important matches since Murray claimed the Wimbledon title, and eleven of their last twelve contests in any tournament. Whatever the sports psychologists are doing with Andy, it isn’t working. He has lost five Melbourne finals now, four against Djokovic, who has won all six of his own Australian Open finals.
The distractions created by circumstance, a heavily pregnant wife back home and a father-in-law who collapsed earlier in the tournament, took their toll on Murray, perhaps. But in reality, all Djokovic had to do was come out with all guns blazing and then stay compact, relaxed and confident as his opponent flailed away all his promising openings.
Sport isn’t everything, of course, and Murray was close to tears as he said:’To my wife Kim, she’s going to be watching at home, you’ve been a legend the last two weeks, thank you for all your support and I’ll be on the next flight home.
‘Congratulations Novak, six Australian Opens is an incredible feat and what you’ve done the last year is incredible consistency.’
Novak replied: ‘You’re a great champion, a great friend and a great professional Andy, so committed to this sport, so I’m sure you’ll have more good opportunities in the future. I’d like to wish you and Kim a very happy and healthy delivery of your baby and I’m sure you’ll experience a feeling like never before, because that’s what happened to me and my wife.’
Djokovic has the winning feeling right now, though. Yet again. And he joins those greats in the process. Novak added: ‘I’m extremely honoured to be mentioned alongside the legends tonight, Mr Laver, thank you for being here. Mr Emerson couldn’t be with us tonight but it’s a great pleasure to equal your record and I want to send you my best.’
Novak got off to a typically explosive start, just as he had done against Roger Federer, and blew away Murray 6-1 in the first. Andy must have been aware of the impending storm, since he knew how Novak’s semi-final had gone against the Fed. And yet the Brit didn’t seem to wake up until he was five games behind.
The second set was so much more competitive, and Murray should have taken control in the sixth game. Break points gave him hope, but Andy squandered his opportunities, as that stubborn Djokovic defiance kicked in.
Worse was to come when Murray’s accuracy deserted him in his next service game. Before he knew it, he faced a break point and potential oblivion. His brother Jamie looked on with worry written all over his face. ‘Don’t say anything, it doesn’t help,’ Andy said to his camp. But silence didn’t help either. Murray was broken.
That was the cue for Novak to take his eye off the ball, and he too failed to hold serve. When he should have seized on a period of rare Djokovic vulnerability, Andy showed no ruthlessness at all, and he will regret what happened in the next half-an-hour.
After holding his own serve, Andy came within two points of taking the set on Novak’s. But three unforced errors in a row ruined Murray’s chances from a promising 15-30. Suddenly the opportunity was gone, and all Andy could do was grin inanely, as though that were any better than yelling out in frustration.
In the very next game, Murray was leading 40-0 and seemingly ready to exert more pressure. Instead he lost that service game, only for the half-chances to keep coming. Serving for the set, Novak double-faulted twice. Murray failed to capitalise, errors of his own causing the problem once more. Seconds later he had lost the set 7-5.
In that instant, we already knew the match was over, although there were flashes of brilliance from Murray in the third, as he began to show us what might have been. In the tie-break, however, Andy failed to compete. Two double faults at that crucial time told their own story, just as 65 unforced errors in total made it a disappointing display from the world number two. At least his brother won a title this weekend.
Jamie Murray’s extraordinary achievement on Saturday will therefore remain the highlight of the Australian Open for the famous tennis family.
He became the first Briton to win the men’s doubles title at the Australian Open in 82 years, when he and Brazilian partner Bruno Soares beat Daniel Nestor and Radek Stepanek 2-6, 6-4, 7-5.
Soares had started nervously and seen his serve broken twice. But Murray steadied the ship in the second – and the pair roared back into contention. Murray failed to close out the match when he served at 5-4 in the third. But that was soon forgotten when he helped break the Canadian-Czech double act once more. Soares then more than made up for his early nerves by closing out the match in style, leaving Jamie close to tears.
‘I don’t know what you’re doing here taking photos,’ Jamie said to his grinning brother Andy afterwards, as he noticed the clock ticking to 1:00am. ‘You should be in bed!’
But Andy Murray had been determined to enjoy the moment, knowing perhaps what an uphill struggle he himself would face the following day.
Earlier in the weekend, Britain’s Gordon Reid had won his first Grand Slam singles title with a brilliant victory over Joachim Gerard in the Melbourne final.
The wheelchair tennis star had to dig deep to prevail, especially during an epic first-set tie-break.
But once he had his nose in front, he refused to let his mind play tricks and held his nerve for a famous 7-6 (9-7), 6-4 victory.
Unfortunately Reid couldn’t repeat his heroics in the doubles final, but this has still been a ground-breaking and triumphant Australian Open for the cheerful Scot – and he will never forget it.