MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic may have garnered a reputation as the crown prince of pranksters in tennis but on Sunday he firmly established him as the king of Melbourne’s blue hardcourts with his fifth Australian Open title.
The 27-year-old Serb, limping from two slips on court, breathing heavily and battling a “physical crisis”, overcame a fired-up Andy Murray 7-6(5) 6-7(4) 6-3 6-0 to clinch his fourth Australian title in the past five years.
It was his eighth grand slam title overall.
He also overcame a slight shift in momentum in the second set when security staff had to remove a group of people, two of whom managed to jump on court but did not get near the players, protesting Australia’s policy on refugees.
”We both, of course, went through some tough moments physically,“ Djokovic said. ”I went through the physical crisis in the matter of 20 minutes... end of the second, beginning of the third.
“Just felt very exhausted and I needed some time to regroup and recharge and get back on track. That’s what I did.”
Since Djokovic won his first grand slam title in 2008 he has compiled a 47-3 record in Melbourne. His reign means he has the record for most Australian Open titles in the Open era, one behind Australia’s Roy Emerson who dominated in the 1960s.
“This tournament by far has been my most successful tournament in my life, in my career. I enjoy playing here, enjoy coming back,” he said.
“Being mentioned in the elite group of legends in our sport is a huge privilege and honor.”
Despite Murray’s poor record against the Serb -- he had lost seven of their past eight encounters -- he had arguably entered the final as the slight favorite.
Djokovic had struggled in his semi-final against defending champion Stan Wawrinka, while Murray played superbly to beat seventh seed Tomas Berdych in a tempestuous clash.
Murray’s celebrations in the victory over Berdych highlighted the raging competitiveness that exists inside the 27-year-old boxing fan as he repeatedly mimicked punching an imaginary opponent into the ground.
Fittingly, Murray and Djokovic were involved in a tense boxing match on Sunday, examining each other for any weakness, landing a body blow, taking one themselves, or counter punching as they scrambled around trying to stay alive.
Several times, Murray had Djokovic wobbling and down on one knee, ready to be finished off and he knew it.
But the knockout blow never came and Murray felt afterwards Djokovic’s problems on court may have had an element of gamesmanship, lulling him into a false sense of anticipation that he could be on the verge of his third grand slam title.
That gave the Serb the chances he needed, which accounted for Murray’s yawps of anguished pain and lengthy monologues consisting mostly of the Anglo-Saxon vernacular his fiance Kim Sears uttered during the Berdych semi-final, the video of which went viral on social media.
By the end of the third set, after Djokovic had found himself 2-0 down and then won six of the next seven games, Murray’s frustrations boiled over as he slammed his racquet into the ground, causing the crowd to turn on him.
“If someone’s cramping in the final of a slam, with such a long way to go, you’re feeling pretty good about yourself,” Murray said of Djokovic’s limping at 3-3 in the third set.
“Yeah, maybe, I dropped off for 10, 15 minutes there, and he got back into it.”
The fight appeared gone from Murray and when Djokovic jumped to a 3-0 lead in the fourth, he buried his head beneath a towel, and while he appeared to metaphorically throw it in, he insisted the top seed had simply thrown caution to the wind.
“He played fantastically well after the first few games of the fourth set. He was going for everything and hitting the lines (and) there’s not much you can do in that situation.”
Editing by Ken Ferris