There was a pattern in this year’s Australian Open men and women’s single finals. Serena was the women’s top seed and so was Djokovic. Both of them won the finals every time they found their berths. She won on six occasions out of six and the Serb won on five out of the five times that he entered the finals. Both are ATP’s top ranked men and women’s players and inspire awe in opponents against whom they play. Their forms, going into the finals, were patchy but still they outlasted their opponents on their superior mental strength. These are compelling statistics, about which the tournament managers would not have dwelt, when they decided on the seedings before the start of the event. But in retrospect, it must be heartening to them that their choices were apt. The tournament’s most awaited match was played on Sunday night in which the top seed and world no.1 Novak Djokovic played his heart out in taking the Australian Open title to the utter frustration of Scotsman Andy Murray, who didn’t exactly surrender against Djokovic if the fourth set’s 6-0 score should indicate any such thing. The Brit fought as fiercely as he could but finally yielded to someone superior to him.
A placard in the stands, full of supporters for the Serb, read Do Djoks. It could also have been Go Djoks or even No Djoks with No being related to Novak and not to any negative connotation. The Serb was too focused to have lost on Sunday because he displayed terrific mental strength that allowed him to keep the match under control. We talk about mental fortitude because, for the past two weeks, Djokovic didn’t play with the conviction, sustained consistency and intensity. These are usually the hallmarks of his game but he had issues, when he faced Gilles Muller or Verdasco. His semifinal match against Wawrinka was ridden with holes and one could see him gasping for breath. And yet he came through on the sheer strength of his solid mental make-up. In the final against Murray on Sunday, he fell and his thumb looked swollen but he continued regardless. The power of the strong will held him. The first two sets of the match were draining for both players but once that period passed, it was mind game all the way. In the semifinal, Wawrinka wilted towards the end after holding on for four sets. The Serb’s relentless energy wore him down to the extent that the final set ended 6-0 in Djokovic’s favor. The same happened in the final against Murray. The Scot won the second set and led 2-0 in the third. But the Serb recovered from the shaky patch to reel off 12 out of 13 games on the trot and like Wawrinka finished with 6-0 in the fourth set.
The first two sets of the final were split on identical lines. And it was here that the better of part of the contest on Sunday remained focused. They were so equally matched that it would seem as no surprise that Djokovic and Murray are both 27 years of age, having been born just a week from each other. The two sets were full of extended rallies, breathtaking shot-making and the court coverage that would put an Andre Agassi to shame. The first set lasted 72 minutes with Djokovic firing innumerous sharply angled forehands into the corners. Later, however, a thumb injury reduced his power but before that, he overpowered the Scot to win the first set tie-break. In the second set, Murray returned with a vengeance and turned the tables on the Serb. The duration of the set was even longer but Murray didn’t look like giving up easily. He won the second set tiebreak in 80 minutes. Not only that, he raced to an early 2-0 lead in the third set. Just when the fight looked like continuing late into the night, the Serb hit back. Murray suffered from the problems of his own making as Djokovic made it 3-3 in the third set. That was all Murray would score in the final. He lost the third set 3-6 and as the Serb came up with a dominant display, reeling off 9 games in a row, he handed Murray a 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, 6-0 defeat. The turnaround came after Murray began making errors, which normally he would not commit. By the time the match ended, Djokovic had produced 53 winners to Murray’s 41. The Serb’s unforced error count was 40 to Murray’s 49. Amazingly, the total time of 67 minutes taken in third and fourth sets was less than that consumed in the first set. As the Serb began to celebrate, Murray was clearly heartbroken in the end, more because of his own demons.
By winning the Australian Open five times, Novak Djokovic wrote his name in history with an Open-era record. He has surpassed Andre Agassi and Roger Federer, both of whom have won at Melbourne 4 times each. In the all-time list, only Roy Emerson with 6 titles stands above the Serb.
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