It would come as little surprise if the Rod Laver Arena was soon re-named as the ‘Djokovic Exhibition Court’, such is the dominance the world number one has achieved on the Australian Open’s premium court. Five titles in the past six years, and just one defeat on the hallowed blue turf. The latest was concluded on Sunday, when the Serb beat world number two Andy Murray in straight sets (6-1 7-5 7-6), a breath-taking demolition that draws him level with Rod Laver himself, as well as Bjorn Borg, on 11 Grand Slam titles. The man is a super human, and with Nadal on the decline, Federer nearing retirement, and Murray consistently falling short at the last hurdle, the 28 year old, looks certain to blow Federer’s record of 18 Grand Slam titles out of the water.
The accuracy and brutal fitness required by the hard surface at the Australian Open, where lengthy rallies between top players are a common feature, makes his achievement all the more remarkable. His performance in the first set in particular was astonishing. Picking up where he left on in his flawless dismantling of Federer in the semi-final, his clean, deep hitting battered an admittedly below-par Murray into submission, racing to a 5-0 lead and tying up the set soon after. To his credit, Murray fought back in an 80 minute, but at 5-5 with the Scot serving at 40-0 up, the world number one unleashed some of his best tennis, claiming the next five straight points, the highlight one stunning 36-stroke rally. Despite two successive double faults in the subsequent game, Djokovic showed great composure under pressure to serve the set out.
Despite being two sets down, Murray looked in the better physical condition of the two in the third, coming close towards the end of the set to breaking the Djokovic serve. However, it ultimately came down to a tie-break which saw two Murray double faults effectively gift Djokovic the title after two hours and 53 minutes. Perhaps a disappointing final, given it was more a procession towards Djokovic having his name etched on the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup once again. Though Murray was certainly not at his best throughout, as a tally of 65 unforced errors in comparison to Djokovic’s 41 throughout the course of the match attests to, it does seem nigh on impossible that anyone could match the Serb in his current vein of form, particularly on his second home, the Rod Laver Arena.
Murray certainly has the variety and power in his game to win points off the Serb, but it seems that at crucial moments in big matches, Djokovic’s mental fortitude is simply unparalleled in today’s game. Perhaps this is the influence of Boris Becker, six-time Grand Slam champion, who was brought into the Djokovic camp in December 2013 and has now overseen Djokovic’s rise to one of the greats of the game. The bond between the two is clearly a strong one, with the big German breaking down in tears minutes after Djokovic clinched the title on Sunday in Melbourne. Djokovic will next set his sights on the French Open, the one Grand Slam title his has yet to set his paws on after the brilliant Stan Wawrinka denied him on the clay of Roland Garros last year. It would seem ridiculous to bet against him wrapping up the career Grand Slam in June.
Spare a thought for poor old Andy Murray. Fresh from his and fellow Brits’ heroics in the Davis Cup at the end of 2015, there was much optimism about his challenge for the Australian title in 2016. He passed essentially without hiccup through the preliminary rounds, and showed both supreme skill and immense determination to defeat Miles Raonic in five sets in the semi-finals, despite being behind on the scoreboard twice in the match. Yet, once again, the sheer brilliance of Djokovic dashed any hopes of adding to his US Open and Wimbledon titles. Murray has now lost all five Australian Open finals he has played, despite it arguably being the surface most suited to the strengths of his game, and four of those against Djokovic. Indeed, this was his 11th loss in 12 matches against Djokovic.
The Scot does ultimately move on to bigger and better things, however, as he jumps on the next flight to London to return to his wife Kim, who is expecting to give birth to their first child in the next two weeks. Jamie Murray, fresh from his triumph in the mens’ doubles with partner Bruno Soares, may well be on the same flight; perhaps it is not such a bad time for the Murray family after all.