By Jaclyn Stacey
(January 27, 2013) MELBOURNE PARK, Australia – Novak Djokovic created history on Sunday when he became the first male tennis player in the Open Era to win three consecutive Australian Open titles, overcoming a defiant Andy Murray 6-7(2), 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-2 in three hours and 40 minutes.
“Every tournament, especially the major tournaments, is very special. So every win, of course also adding to that the history part, you know, winning it three in a row, it’s incredible.” Djokovic said of the record. “It’s very thrilling. I’m full of joy right now.”
The Australian Open is Djokovic’s most successful Grand Slam, with four out of his six major titles coming at Melbourne Park. He joins Agassi and Federer as the only players in the Open Era to have won four Australian Open Championships. Agassi was on hand for the trophy ceremony and presented Djokovic with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.
“He had so much success. He won everything: Gold medal, Olympic Games, Grand Slam, everything. Also he made a huge impact on the sport by changing the style. He was I think one of the first baseline groundstroke players on the tour. Most of the players before him were playing serve and volley. That’s where the game started to change a bit and you could have more players winning the events from the baseline.” Djokovic said of Agassi’s footprint on tennis. “So it was obviously a big pleasure and honor for me to receive the trophy from him.”
The gladiatorial battle was a trial of stamina as the two baseline defenders exchanged extended rallies throughout the duration of the match. Set one and two lasted over an hour each and with neither player willing to step up and be the aggressor, the first two sets went to a tie-break without a single break of serve occurring. A break didn’t come until the 32nd game in the match when Djokovic managed to break Murray and close out the third set without requiring a tie-break. Djokovic seemed to gain a mental edge after winning the third set and stepped up to play more aggressively, pouncing on any Murray second serves. He hit faster and deeper and applied more pressure in the fourth set to close out the match.
Murray had declared prior to the final that he was ready to feel the pain against Djokovic, knowing that if that was the case he knew it’d be a great match. He certainly experienced pain during the encounter, though not how he would have expected, requiring medical attention for blisters on his right foot at the end of the second set.
It was the third time that Murray and Djokovic had met at the Australian Open, the first in the 2011 final where Djokovic obliterated Murray 6-4 6-2 6-3 and last year in a tough five set semifinal in which Djokovic prevailed and went on to win the title. By midway into the second set on Sunday, Murray had already surpassed the total number of games he won in the 2011 demolition.
“I mean, the last few months have been the best tennis of my life. I mean, I made Wimbledon final, won the Olympics, won the US Open. You know, I was close here as well. It was close,” Murray said of the defeat. “So, you know, I have to try and look at the positives of the last few months, and I think I’m going the right direction. This is the first time I’ve beaten Roger in a slam over five sets.”
Murray won an intense first set in the tie-break 7-6(2) in 68 minutes. It was a test of endurance as the two exchanged lengthy rallies peppered with incredible shotmaking. Djokovic had five break point opportunities during the set but a steely Murray stepped up to save all of them. Djokovic served incredibly well in the set, at one stage with a first serve percentage of 80%, and Murray didn’t get one look at a break point opportunity throughout the set.
He did in the second set however, Djokovic going down 0-40 in his first service game but saving all break point opportunities with some gritty tennis. The same physical battle endured throughout the set and neither player faced another opportunity to break. After 24 held games in the match the second set ended in another tie-break which Djokovic closed out 7-6(3).
The third set began in the same fashion as the first two until finally after 31 consecutive held service games Djokovic won the first break in the match to lead 5-3. He then held to love with some superb first serves to close out the third set 6-3 and lead the match two sets to one.
At 1-1 in the fourth set Djokovic again had break point opportunities thanks to a sloppy game from Murray in which he served his fourth double fault for the match. Prior to the final, Murray had served just two double faults for the entire tournament. After a 26 point rally Murray hit a backhand unforced error to gift the Serbian the lead 2-1. Djokovic then consolidated the break before claiming another advantage in the next game as Murray served his fifth double fault down break point. From there Djokovic was full of momentum and confidently served out the match, Murray netting a backhand on Championship point.
“I knew that it’s going to be physically very demanding, a lot of long rallies, so I needed to hang in there. I’ve done that. There was a few turning points in the match. Maybe one of them was the second game in the second set when I was Love-40 against the breeze. He missed a few shots. I managed have that crucial hold.” Djokovic said of the difficulty level in the match. “After that I felt just mentally a little bit lighter and more confident on the court than I’ve done in the first hour or so.”
“Yeah, I tried to be more aggressive. So I went for my shots, especially in the third and fourth; came to the net quite often. I was quite successful in that percentage, so it worked well for me. I needed to be the one who dictates the play, and I’m really glad that I’ve played my best.”
Djokovic was asked what motivated him to fight for more Grand Slam titles, particularly following some tough losses against the top four in the final three majors of 2012.
“What more motivation you need than from this trophy?” He asked. “Just seeing it and reading the names of the winners in last 50, 100 years, it’s incredible. To be also mentioned in the history aspect, you know, and winning three in a row, it’s a huge achievement. So I’m always motivated in every match that I play on. But of course Grand Slam finals are always bringing something new, something special to every player, and that’s where you want to perform your best.”