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It’s His House: Djokovic Wins Third Straight Australian Open

Novak Djokovic became the first player in Open Era history to three-peat at the Australian Open with a 6-7(2), 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-2 victory over Andy Murray.

By Chris Oddo

Novak Djokovic wins Australian Open, 2013 (January 27, 2013) -- Maybe it was the three break points that Novak Djokovic saved in the second game of the second set. Maybe it was the seagull feather that interrupted Andy Murray’s concentration as he prepared to serve at 2-2 in the second set tiebreaker.

Maybe it was destiny.

Whatever it was, by the end of Sunday night’s Australian Open men’s final, it was clear that Rod Laver Arena is Novak Djokovic’s house. The Serb’s 6-7(2), 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-2 victory over Andy Murray makes him the only player in Open Era history to have won three consecutive Australian Open titles, and ties the 25-year-old with Andre Agassi and Roger Federer with four career titles in Australia.

They call it the happy slam, and Djokovic, winner of 21 consecutive matches in Melbourne, was all smiles at the conclusion of his latest triumph down under.

“Winning three in a row, it’s incredible,” said Djokovic.

It was far from a breezy win for Djokovic. In a surprising twist, two players considered to be among the best returners in the game became embroiled in a serving battle for two grueling sets.

In their previous two Grand Slam matches, Djokovic and Murray had broken each other’s serve a combined thirty-five times, but in the first two and a half hours of Sunday’s final, there were none.

“That’s the thing that was kind of surprising,” said Murray afterwards. “I think it’s not the easiest court to return. It was playing fairly quick this year.”

After taking the first set tiebreaker, Murray, attempting to become the only first-time Grand Slam winner to win a second major in his next opportunity, saw a golden opportunity to take command of the match slip through his hands early in the second set.

Looking at a triple break point in the second game of the set, Murray was unable to overcome an array of clutch shotmaking from the Serb. Instead of being up a set and a break, Murray found himself entrenched in a dogfight in which the momentum had shifted to the other side. It would be Murray’s last break point until a last-ditch comeback attempt midway through the fourth set. More important, it would serve as the impetus for Djokovic to begin a run of near flawless play that would take him all the way to the finish line.

In the second set tiebreaker, Murray still looked to be in position to take a commanding two-set lead when a stroke of strangeness intervened as he was serving at 2-2. After faulting on his first serve, Murray stopped to catch a falling feather before hitting his second serve. By the time he got the feather stowed away in his pocket, his concentration had left him and he double faulted to give Djokovic the crucial mini-break.

Whether the feather had played a role in Murray’s demise or not, the double-fault surely did. The Serb rattled off four of the next five points to level the match, at which time Murray’s ability to match Djokovic’s stamina down the stretch started to come into question.

Having played a grueling four-hour match with Roger Federer in the semifinal, as well as two excruciatingly long sets with Djokovic, Murray would need medical assistance for a blister on his right toe. Though he claimed afterwards that the injury did little more than cause him some pain, Murray’s energy seemed to drop from that moment on, while Djokovic’s only rose.

“There was a few turning points in the match,” said Djokovic. “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 to have that crucial hold. After that I felt just mentally a little bit lighter and more confident on the court.”

With Djokovic dialed in, the suddenly fatigued Murray would face an even stiffer test in sets three and four.

Finally, after 31 consecutive games without a break, Djokovic moved ahead in the match when a Murray forehand clipped the tape and rolled onto his side of the court.

With Murray now reeling from opportunities lost and injuries acquired (he was also tugging at his left gluteus or hamstring more as the match wore on), Djokovic kicked into overdrive to win nine of the final eleven games, closing out the match with a flurry of winners and the type of defensive gets that have characterized the Serb’s rise to prominence in the last two years.

Djokovic, 25, has now won five of his last nine Grand Slams, and he joins Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg on the list of Open Era players to have won more than five grand Slam titles.

Will he turn his sights to the French Open next?

“Priority for me now is to enjoy this victory,” he said. Then he added, “Of course, I want to go all the way in [the] French Open.”

Given his current, indomitable status as the game’s best conditioned athlete and most superb shotmaker under duress, his run of Grand Slam success appears to be far from over.

With his press duties done, Djokovic appeared to have his mind on anything but more tennis. He passed out chocolates as gifts to members of the press, saying, “Let’s keep it sweet.”

For Murray, the loss was not so bitter; instead it was taken as a sign of a trend. He didn't win his second Grand Slam title, but he acquitted himself nicely throughout the fortnight, especially in his sparkling win over Federer in the semifinals. "The last few months have been the best tennis of my life," he said. "I felt much more comfortable on the court today than even I did at the U.S. Open, so that has to be a positive."

As good as he was, in the end it was clear that he was living on borrowed time against Djokovic.

These days, at the Australian Open, Djokovic owns the house and the rest must pay the rent.

(Photo Credit: Australian Open)


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