In the Australian Open final, 2008 champion Novak Djokovic and 2010 finalist Andy Murray clashed for the title. Djokovic trounced Murray 6-4,6-2,6-3 to win his second career major.
Both Murray and Djokovic looked in peak form coming into this encounter and were evenly matched in many respects. Both players were competing in their third final at a major. Although Djokovic led their head to head 4-3, Murray prevailed in their last three meetings. Yet, their ultimate tussle was in 2009 at the Sony Ericsson Open. Thus, expectations were heightened that this would be a sensational battle.
After Djokovic held at love to start the first set, Murray wiped out a break point and needed five deuces before securing his first game. As the set progressed, Murray appeared content to allow Djokovic to force the issue while playing defense. On a backhand crosscourt error by Djokovic, Murray squared the set at 4 all. For his part, Djokovic continued to cruise on serve and at 40-15 connected on forehand crosscourt winner to move in front 5-4. With Murray serving, Djokovic stepped up the aggression. After a forehand up the line winner, Djokovic caused Murray to dump a forehand pass into the net on a 39 shot rally to arrive at double break point. When Murray’s forehand traveled long, Djokovic pocketed the set.
Following a love hold, on his second break point chance, Djokovic struck a backhand crosscourt winner to steal the game for a 2-0 lead in the second set. Then, after comfortably consolidating, Djokovic enticed Murray into four straight errors to break at love and stretch his advantage to 4-0. Djokovic had a string of seven successive games and 5-0 edge before Murray held serve even needing to blot out a set point. The players exchanged breaks the last two games as Djokovic built a two set to none cushion.
For Murray, it was clear that old reliable would not work this time as it had not in previous major finals. His fall back strategy of being defensive was not troubling Djokovic in the least. Moreover, Murray’s backhand, his star shot, was leaking mistake after mistake while the forehand was even more disappointing. Therefore, Murray had to try another tactic. However, he was conspicuously confused as to what to do.
Murray showed his willingness to fight by breaking in the first game with a forehand up the line winner. However, by floating his backhand long and sending a forehand crosscourt wide, Murray was down double break point. By pushing an overhead shot wide, Murray surrendered his serve. Then with another uncomplicated service game, Djokovic kept his nose in front 2-1. Next, with Murray miscalculating on the backhand, Djokovic had double break point again. Although Murray erased those and got to deuce, on his seventh break point of the game, Djokovic crushed a backhand pass down the line to capture a 3-1 edge. But, Murray came back and broke to get back on serve. Still, with Djokovic obtaining break point in almost every game, how long could Murray sustain the pressure? With Murray serving at 3-4, Djokovic thumped a forehand up the winner for break point. As Murray’s forehand crosscourt stayed on his side of the net, Djokovic bagged the break for 5-3. Promptly, with Murray misfiring on another forehand, Djokovic arrived at championship point. When Murray’s forehand failed to go over the net, the Australian Open trophy belonged to Djokovic.
Indeed it was a brilliant two week from Djokovic. In the semifinals, Djokovic dispatched defending champion Roger Federer in straight sets. Rafael Nadal was also denied his fourth consecutive major. In the quarterfinals, Nadal was defeated by compatriot David Ferrer. Once again, Murray was attempting to end a 75 year drought by the Brits at the majors. After coming up short a third time, one wonders whether Murray will always be a bridesmaid.
For only the second time since 2008, neither Federer nor Nadal reached the final at a major. That year at the Australian Open, Djokovic was also the victor. In 2008, the buzz was whether fans were witnessing a “changing of the guards”. With Federer overcoming illness and Nadal injury, the question proved premature. Since age is not Federer’s ally, on this occasion, the question may hold more substance. But as always, the next few months will tell.