Novak Djokovic Won his 4th Career Australian Open Title on Sunday.
It is not on the level of Federer-Nadal, but another great tennis rivalry might be in the making.
After losing a five-set U.S. Open Final to Andy Murray just over four months ago, Novak Djokovic exacted revenge over his rival on Sunday. Djokovic wore down Murray over the course of four sets to win his third consecutive Australian Open Title and fourth overall, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Djokovic is the first man in the Open Era to win three consecutive Australian Open Titles. The 25-year-old Serbian now has six titles overall.
Djokovic leads Murray 11-7 in head-to-head meetings, and is now 2-1 against him in majors. Both players are just 25 years old and are entering the prime of their careers. Of course, Rafael Nadal will have something to say about who wins the French Open when he returns from a knee injury, and Roger Federer seemingly reaches at least the semifinals of all four Grand Slam tournaments every year. But right now, Djokovic and Murray are undoubtedly the best players in the world on hard court surfaces.
To see where this match was won and lost, let's take a look at some key points from each of the four sets.
The first set played out as expected at over an hour, with both players exchanging long rallies from behind the baseline. Djokovic appeared to be much more tense than Murray, as he often appeared frustrated and had several unforced errors on his forehand side. Part of this might have been the result of an extra day of rest that Djokovic had over Murray, after he easily dispatched fourth-ranked David Ferrer in the semifinals.
Murray's backhand slice was rock solid in this set, giving Djokovic problems generating power from both sides, and allowing Murray to hold serve comfortably for much of the opening set.
At 2-2 in the opening set, Murray had a chance to seize early momentum of the match on the Djokovic serve, but dumped a passing shot into the net which would have given him a break-point opportunity.
On the next service game, Djokovic had Murray on the ropes at 0-40 with three break points, but Murray's first serve combined with unforced errors from the Djokovic forehand allowed him to stay in the set and level the match at 3-3.
After over an hour, the set was finally decided in a tiebreak. Murray hit all of his first serves in the tiebreak and the Scotsman grabbed control of the first set from Djokovic, despite the fact that the defending champion did not face a single break point against his serve.
Djokovic found success when he came to net, winning 35 total points.
The second set also lasted for over an hour and was another display of grueling, physical tennis from both players. Both players had several missed opportunities to seize control of the match in the set. Djokovic continued to remain frustrated, while Murray looked more like the player who was going for his fourth Australian Open title.
Murray backed up his first set with an easy service hold to go up 1-0, and then an early turning point in the match occurred. With momentum on Murray's side, he pushed Djokovic's serve to the brink with three break points to go up 0-40. Just as The Djoker could not capitalize on three break points against Murray in the first set, Murray failed to deliver an early knockout punch to Djokovic's serve in the second set, which surely would have put him in the driver's seat for a two-set lead.
Later with Djokovic serving at 3-4, Murray spoiled a chance to get a 0-30 opening on the Djokovic serve by hitting a forehand into the net. At 5-6, Djokovic also had a terrific overhead to win a 30-30 point and send the second set into another tiebreak.
Murray had 21 aces in the semifinals against Federer, but only managed 7 against Djokovic.
Through the first two sets, there were zero breaks of serve, which was a major departure from the two previous Grand Slam meetings Djokovic and Murray had in the 2012 Australian Open semis and the 2012 U.S. Open final.
Everything was at stake for both players in the second set tiebreak. For Djokovic, winning three straight sets against one of the best returners of serve and defensive players in the world would be a monumental task. For Murray, he could sink the defending champ into a daunting two sets to zero hole. Including the first-set tiebreak, Murray's career tiebreak record against Djokovic was also 6-3, giving him a mental edge in that department.
Then, the turning point of the Australian Open Final came at 2-2 in the tiebreak.
Just as Murray was lining up the ball-toss for his serve, he was distracted by a floating feather from a bird in front of him. He walked out from his stance to grab the feather and then went back to serve. Murray then double-faulted for just his third time in the entire tournament. Tennis is a game predicated all around on rhythm and focus, and Murray's was clearly thrown off. Djokovic held his two service points to advance his lead to 5-2, and went on to win the tiebreak 7-3.
Murray's mobility wore down throughout the later stages of the match, as he reaches for his hamstring
Prior to the start of the third set, Murray had a training staff examine his feet and ankles, which were heavily braced and taped. He was beginning to show signs of physical fatigue, which was no surprise given the fact that he had a grueling five-set match in the semifinals against Roger Federer, and had one less day to rest than Djokovic did.
Murray managed to fight through the opening stages of the third set pretty well, but the momentum he had built up through the first two sets was beginning to fade away. Both players enjoyed easy holds on their service games, and it was quickly 3-3.
With Murray on serve at 3-4 and showing increasing signs of fatigue, Djokovic finally broke through to win a 36-shot rally on a forehand winner. Murray could be seen breathing heavily while Djokovic looked like he had hardly broken a sweat. He then hit another forehand winner on the next point and was up on Murray's serve 0-40 with three break points. Murray fought back to 30-40, but then found the net on the next point. Djokovic held serve to win the set 6-3 and seize control of the match with a 2-1 set lead.
Euphoria sweeps in as Djokovic wins his 6th career Grand Slam title.
By the time the fourth set rolled around, it was clear that Murray was struggling with his mobility on the court. Between each point, cameras often showed Murray grimacing, reaching for his left hamstring, or looking up at his box as if to signal there was very little left in the fuel tank. On the contrary, Djokovic's fitness was superb, as his legs and endurance got stronger as the match progressed.
Once Djokovic could see his opponent was not moving well around the court, he used effective and well-timed drop shots to expose Murray's weakness, which is something Murray routinely made Federer pay for in the semifinals.
At 1-1 in the set, Djokovic broke Murray's serve again and then held his serve to take a commanding 3-1 lead. The final dagger for Murray came on another costly double fault which gave Djokovic his third break of serve for the match. Djokovic went on to win the fourth set, 6-2.
There is no disputing that Novak Djokovic is the top men's player in the world right now. His game is tailored to hard court, clay and grass, and he has the advantage in career head-to-head meetings with Murray while narrowly trailing both Nadal and Federer.
A few years ago, the Serbian used to struggle with his fitness over the course of a five-set match, but now it is his opponents—even Andy Murray—who are struggling to keep up with him.
It really is a shame that Murray broke down physically in the third and fourth sets, because his level of tennis over the first two sets was certainly high enough to keep Djokovic off-balance and win the match.
Like Djokovic, Murray has also made tremendous strides in his game from a few years ago, particularly with his first serve and positive on-court attitude. The biggest adjustments going forward for Murray need to be his second serve and his fitness, which both let him down in the final.