Novak Djokovic wants to use his record third straight Australian Open title to target the one tennis major he’s yet to win: the French Open.
A week after almost being eliminated from the season-opening Grand Slam tournament, the Serb didn’t drop his serve last night in beating Andy Murray of Britain in four sets to secure the championship at Melbourne Park for the fourth time in six years. It was his sixth major title overall, and he said it gives him confidence in preparing for the clay courts of Paris, where he lost last year to Spain’s Rafael Nadal.
“I want to go all the way in French Open,” the top-seeded Djokovic said in a news conference. “I went to the finals last year and had a great match against Rafa, but he’s always the favorite on that surface and he’s the ultimate player to beat on clay. If I continue on playing well, stay healthy, I can have a chance.”
Djokovic’s 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-2 victory over third-seeded Murray at Rod Laver Arena made him the first man to win the tournament three years in a row since Australia’s Roy Emerson took his fifth consecutive title in 1967. Since the professional era began a year later, nine other players had won back-to-back championships before failing on the third attempt.
His title defense almost ended in round four, when he outlasted 15th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland in a five-hour, two-minute contest, winning the last set 12-10. It was the fourth-longest match in tournament history.
Run to Final
“I didn’t feel I was better player on court that night,” Djokovic said. “Stan deserved to win even more than me.”
Seven days later, Djokovic entered the championship match having had 24 hours longer to prepare than Murray following his 89-minute semifinal rout of fourth-seeded David Ferrer. U.S. Open champion Murray, who had been seeking to become the only man in the Open era to follow his first Grand Slam victory with another title in his next major, was taken to five sets by four-time champion Roger Federer. Last night’s loss dropped Murray to 1-5 in Grand Slam finals.
“No one’s ever won a Slam, the immediate one after winning their first one,” Murray told reporters. “It’s not the easiest thing to do and I got extremely close. I have to try and look at the positives of the last few months. I’m going in the right direction.”
The pair played a four-hour, 54-minute match for the U.S. Open championship in September, and last night the long-time rivals looked like they would produce another marathon. The first two sets took almost 2 1/4 hours. Djokovic appeared to be rattled during the first two sets, complaining to himself after slipping several times and kicking a tennis ball into the crowd after hitting it long.
“I knew that it was going to be physically very demanding, a lot of long rallies,” Djokovic said. “I needed to hang in there.”
Playing with a grazed knee and elbow following a slip on which he managed to make a forehand when horizontal on the baseline, Djokovic missed five break-point opportunities in the first set. He lost a tiebreaker that he opened with a double fault and hit another four shots long, finishing the 68-minute set with 25 unforced errors.
Murray opened the second frame by holding at love and then got his first break points of the match following another three unforced errors off Djokovic’s racket, only for the defending champion to claw his way back from 0-40 to make it 1-1.
“He missed a few shots and I managed have that crucial hold,” Djokovic said. “After that I felt just mentally a little bit lighter and more confident on the court than I’d done in the first hour or so.”
The set went with serve without another break point and into another tiebreaker, where Murray produced only his fifth double fault of the tournament after removing a feather that had blown onto the court between his first and second serves. Djokovic won four of the next five points to even the match.
“It just caught my eye before I served, I thought it was a good idea to move it,” Murray said of the feather. “Maybe it wasn’t because I obviously double faulted.”
Murray then took a three-minute medical timeout before the third set to have his right foot treated for blisters. Following 31 straight service holds, Djokovic broke to go up 5-3 and held at love to take a two-sets-to-one lead.
With Murray grimacing and grabbing at his left hamstring at the start of the fourth set, Djokovic secured the second break of the match to take a 2-1 lead. He then produced his fastest serve of the tournament at 209 kilometers per hour (130 miles per hour) on his way to holding for 3-1.
Murray’s fifth double fault of the match handed Djokovic a second service break and the Serb fought back from 0-30 down when serving for the championship, sealing the victory in three hours, 40 minutes when Murray put a backhand into the net.
Djokovic said he’ll turn his immediate attention to next weekend’s Davis Cup match against Belgium before plotting his challenge for the French title, where Nadal has won seven of the past eight titles.
“Grand Slam finals are always bringing something new, something special to every player,” Djokovic said. “That’s where you want to perform your best.”