January 30, 2015
Novak Djokovic will play Andy Murray in the Australian Open final – although the Serb rarely played like a world number one during his five-set defeat of defending champion Stan Wawrinka.
An unconvincing Djokovic won 7-6 (7-1), 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0. And despite that emphatic last set, he looked strangely vulnerable for long periods, particularly on his own serve.
Murray might just take heart from what we saw in Melbourne, where the Brit will try to take his first Aussie Open title on Sunday.
Feisty Wawrinka was involved in an early argument with the Djokovic box, possibly over his decision to call a trainer to sooth an irritated eye. A heated exchange ended as suddenly as it had begun.
Although Wawrinka broke first, he had to save two set pointa before the opening set went to a tie-break. That’s when Stan the Man fell apart and Djokovic romped away to win the breaker 7-1.
Suddenly it was Novak’s turn to look jaded as Wawrinka tapped into a fresh surge of energy. The champion played some of his best tennis in those 36 minutes as he levelled by taking the second set 6-3. It was the first set Djokovic had dropped in the entire tournament – but wasn’t to be the last.
There were plenty of twists and turns in the third set, which saw moments of sublime tennis and plenty of mediocrity too. Djokovic broke first to take a 3-0 lead, Stan broke back and drew level at 4-4. But Djokovic raised his game and clinched the set with such an incredible service return that Wawrinka seemed stunned to see the point still alive and put his next forehand into the net.
Both players seemed able to break each other at will in an equally strange fourth set. But Wawrinka looked to have gained the upper hand when he broke for the second time in the set to lead 4-3. Sure enough, Stan held his nerve and served out to take the match into a fifth-set decider.
Once again Murray, with his extra day of recovery time, must have been smiling in his hotel room. He has tried and failed to win three Australian Open finals so far. But 2015 must surely represent his best chance of adding this Slam to his triumphs at the US Open Wimbledon
The line judges often got it wrong during this second semi-final, to the exasperation of both players. But that hardly explained the inconsistency in performance, as levels dipped and rose like a roller-coaster.
Novak broke first in the fifth and had enough left in the locker to do so again. He closed out the contest 6-. But, strange as it may sound, Djokovic he will need to play much better than this on Sunday if he is going to deny a hungry Murray the fresh success he craves.
Djokovic, who has never lost a final here and has just reached a record fifth, said later: ‘As in the last two years we played five sets, it was a great battle and we pushed each other to the limit. I think I played well 2-1 up in sets but then played a couple of loose games and let him back into the match. I made life very complicated on the court. I didn’t even know I’d won one of the sets – sometimes there’s a lot of tension and you don’t keep track of the score. My game was too defensive at times. But in the fifth I stayed consistent and tough. Andy and I go back to when we were twelve years old. We’re very friendly. It’s nice to see we’re playing another Grand Slam final.’