Men's Final - Novak Djokovic Wins Australian Open, His Second
January 30, 2011 -- Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray had equal chances to come out of the shadows and win the first major of the year. But only Novak Djokovic saw the light.
In a brilliant display of breath-taking defense and opportunistic offense, Novak Djokovic grabbed his second Australian Open championship title, defeating a lackluster Andy Murray in straight sets 64 62 63.
Djokovic kissed the Norman Brooks trophy before hoisting it high over his head, conveying his love for the prize and his love of the win -- the biggest in tennis. Djokovic, the awesome champion turned polished diplomat, acknowledged his family and coaches, and the suffering flood victims in Queensland in his acceptance speech. The Serbian showed a maturity grown from aging and, most probably, his well-fitting championship form.
"This was a great match," Djokovic said, in his press conference. "From the start to the last point. I did what I intended of doing tactically, what I talked with my coach, what I prepared for."
The defeated Scot's comments to the press reflected his deep disappointment and high praise for Novak, a personal friend of Andy's for years. "No one could have beaten him, playing like that."
But from outside the court, the seats from where all opinion rises whether in Rod Laver Arena or via the mystery of Twitter or texting, Murray's match strategy, tactics, and attitudes, rendered a scoreline that vastly differed, no matter the comparisons we'll see over the next spin of the news cycle.
Djokovic was never in doubt. He believed from the first ball struck that he could win. He rolled over Roger Federer in three in the semifinal, and had dropped only one set before that. He, and his team of Serbians, won Davis Cup in early December. Novak knew deep in his gut the actual nerve and risks he had to make in order to win while storing them in the deep recesses of his mind. No thought would aid him this evening but an intuitive sense could, and did, keep him afloat if his vision for dominance dimmed along the way.
Andy Murray, in contrast, proved aimless in his assault -- if even a word like that could describe his performance. His serve, his strength, dipped and rose in utility but didn't find consistency. It was a weapon of precise measure against his semifinal opponent, David Ferrer, and key to his victory in that match. Without that leading the way this evening, following up through a point pushed him more and more toward a defensive stature, which certainly was a sub-par position against Novak Djokovic in this final.
"Against Novak [I] need to fire on all cylinders," Murray said, adding, "I could have moved better."
From a player known for speed and retrieving skills, his statement dives directly to his lack of understanding about his opponent, his inflexibility to pick another strategy, and a basic reason he lost. And he lost badly, contributing three more sets to the zero-sum record he's collected in three major finals -- 0-9.
As pressure built for Murray and Djokovic danced on, engaged to the hilt in his pursuit, the Scot barked at his box: 'Shut the ** up.' At a changeover he motioned for them to ease up, mouthing 'relax.' But what magic he had up his sleeve to counter the concern from his supporters never materialized.
At the start of the final, odds were that Djokovic and Murray were comparable in every aspect of the game from forehand to backhand, serve-to-serve, speed-to-speed, etc. Both would play defensive tennis and play it well. Both would have to devise a plan to get the ball past their opponent. In the first set the challenge was apparent and the points extraordinarily long.
At the thirty-minute mark, four games had been played. Compare that with the second set, where Djokovic jetted to a 5-0 lead in 23 minutes. Clearly some things had changes, and drastically.
The answer wasn't difficult to find. Defensively they were partners in execution, early on. However, Djokovic's belief in his game and his intuitive compass flicked the switch to offense at optimal moments.
Here's an example. First set, and the score was 4/5 Murray. Breathtaking rally -- 39 balls -- back and forth, side to side, short and long. Now, it's Djokovic's break point; the first set almost in the bag. Murray hits an ill-informed drop shot, watches Novak scramble to the net and seal the deal.
"I had to step in. That was the key," Djokovic said. "When I had the chance to move him around, that's what I did. Probably the turning point was the last game of the first set where we had some incredible exchange. When you have a set advantage, it's much different."
Instead of rising to the challenge, Murray comes out in the second set, or, rather takes a walkabout in the second set, losing it 6/2. Djokovic's foot was firmly on the gas pedal. Let's be clear, there is no time to waste when an opponent is so on fire that the heat burns this hot.
Murray at that point desperately needed a Brad Gilbert tongue-lashing, the type of coaching he laid on Andre Agassi during the rain delay at the 1999 French Open where a surging Andrei Medvedev played the role of tonight's Novak Djokovic -- seemingly unbeatable.
"You don't have to be better than the whole ** world, remember? You just have to be better than one guy. There isn't one shot he has that you don't have. His serve will break down when you start making your shots. Just hit. I've seen you rip it, under pressure, maim guys. So please stop feeling sorry for yourself, and stop telling me he's too good, and for the love of God stop trying to be perfect. See the ball. Hit the ball. Make this guy deal with you. You're not moving. You're not hitting. You may think you are, but trust me, you're just standing there." (Excerpted from Open, by Andre Agassi.)
Interestingly, Brad Gilbert was Murray's coach. Gilbert was the guy who guided Murray to the top ten, all to be fired for what seemed no apparent reason except the fact that Gilbert talks incessantly and Murray is a internally driven guy who may, in the very near future, have to let go of his belief that he knows better than the world what to do in a tennis match, especially in a grand slam final.
So Murray's reliance on defense backfired. He took a chance with it. He tried to wear down Novak, but the inherent risk involved in a defensive strategy came to light and it was shining on the wrong guy. With more defense and rally after rally of 20-something shots, both players will tire but the cleaver player thinks, forget that, and successfully tacks to feel the wind at his back instead of in his face.
"I wasn't able to put enough good points together," Andy admitted. "It's tough and disappointing. I'll deal with it. Novak played unbelievably well."
Novak Djokovic won the match in a big way. He was decisive throughout. His serve was spot on, after a year of struggles. He deserves to be proud and thrilled about his future.
"Yes, in some ways I felt that I could get any ball and I could make a fast transition from being defensive to being offensive," Djokovic began. "I used to serve in crucial moments. I was patient. I was changing a lot of rhythm, changing pace. He likes to be the one who is going to control the match. I didn't want to allow that."
With the universe awake and in his realm, his alert senses sent him scrambling after Murray's drop shot and the break that won him the first set. In the second, his poise and composure allowed him to march on as his opponent brooded about lost opportunities and remained transfixed about alternative tactics. And, early in the third, Djokovic's down-the-line go-for-broke backhand winner symbolized the entire fortnight for him. Swing out. Ride the wave.
All is not lost for Andy Murray, although he will take a brutal lashing from the international press. Kim Clijsters and Ivan Lendl lost their first four Grand Slam finals. Clijsters now has four; and Lendl retired with eight.
Congratulations to Novak Djokovic... the 2011 Australian Open singles champion, an honor no one will ever take away from you.