Andy Murray blamed himself after suffering more Melbourne misery at the hands of Novak Djokovic yesterday, losing the pair’s third Australian Open final with a dramatic late collapse.
After the first two sets were split in two hours and 32 minutes, Murray looked to be in command against an apparently ailing Djokovic when he broke for a 2-0 lead in the third.
However, from then on the 27-year-old Scot won just one of the next 13 games as a rejuvenated Djokovic raised his level to secure a fifth Australian Open and eighth grand slam title with a 7-6 (7/5) 6-7 (4/7) 6-3 6-0 win in three hours and 39 minutes.
“The third set was frustrating because I got a bit distracted when he fell on the ground after a couple of shots. It appeared that he was cramping and then I let that distract me a little bit,” said Murray, who lost to Djokovic in the 2011 and 2013 finals and to Roger Federer in 2010.
“That’s what I’m most disappointed about, not so much the fourth set because I think, especially at the end of it, he was just going for everything and it was going in.”
Murray added: “He obviously looked like he was in quite a bad way at the beginning of the third set and came back unbelievably at the end of that set. Then the way he was hitting the ball in the fourth and moving was impressive.
“I’m frustrated at myself for letting that bother me at the beginning of the third set, because I was playing well, I had good momentum, and then just dropped off for like 10 minutes and it got away from me.”
Djokovic said he had gone through a “crisis” at the end of the second set and start of the third, adding: “I just felt very exhausted and I needed some time to regroup and recharge and get back on track.
“I’m just glad that I believed it all the way through. I went through the physical crisis in the matter of 20 minutes. I didn’t feel that too many times in my career. But it was a similar situation two years ago in the final, where two sets went over two hours. I felt that I had some physical edge over him in that match. That was in the back of my mind.
“That was something that kept me going and obviously the importance of the moment. I didn’t want to give up. Even though I went through this moment, I believed that I’m going to get that necessary strength. I’m going to have to earn it, and that’s what I did.”
Djokovic was twice a break up in the opening set and served for it at 5-3, but was broken back and had to recover from 4-2 down in the subsequent tie-break to take it 7-5 after 72 minutes.
Murray had never beaten Djokovic after losing the first set but the top seed was struggling with his footwork and appeared to have injured his ankle in the first game of the second set. Murray took advantage to break for a 2-0 lead, but lost the next four games and was trailing 4-3 when play was disrupted by two protesters jumping onto the court and others unfurling a banner which read ‘australia open for refugees’.
The protesters were swiftly removed and security personnel surrounded the players, but the delay seemed to work in Murray’s favour as he came out and broke serve to get back on level terms.
Djokovic had to save a set point at 4-5 and Murray three break points in the next game but eventually another tie-break was required and Murray raced into a 5-2 lead before taking it 7-4.
Murray broke in the opening game and led 2-0 but soon squandered the advantage as he appeared distracted by Djokovic’s fluctuating physical condition, shouting: “Don’t worry about him, he does it all the time” at his box.
That proved to be the turning point and after saving a break point to lead 4-3, Djokovic ran away with the contest as Murray became increasingly frustrated with himself, several rackets bearing the brunt of his anger.
“I would rather lose in the final and be happy than win the final and go home and be miserable,” Murray said.
“I’m happy with everything that I put into the event. I couldn’t have done anything more. I couldn’t have prepared better. I can’t be disappointed with that because I gave my best effort.”