By Ian Ransom
Novak Djokovic reasserted his rule over the hard-courts of Melbourne Park on Sunday, grinding down Andy Murray 7-6(5) 6-7(4) 6-3 6-0 to win his fifth Australian Open title.
The pair waged a fierce baseline duel for the opening two sets, but Djokovic won 12 of the last 13 games to close out an emphatic win and become the first man in the professional era to secure five titles at Melbourne Park.
Top seed Djokovic sealed the victory on his second match-point, rushing to the net with a searing approach shot that Murray could only dump into the net.
The steely-eyed Serb roared in triumph and approached his player’s box to share the win with his team before tearing off his shirt and throwing it into the crowd.
The loss was Murray’s fourth in a final at Melbourne Park and third to Djokovic after the 2011 and 2013 finals.
In a slow-burning contest, the pair set the tone from the first point with a fierce rally featuring scrambling, net-rushes and a Murray lob before the Scot forced an error from the Serb.
Murray failed to capitalise on three early break points and Djokovic made him pay, leaping to a 4-1 lead.
But in the first of many momentum shifts, the Scot clawed back to 4-3 when Djokovic netted an ambitious backhand down the line.
The Serb broke Murray again to 5-3, but at a cost, injuring his thumb when he slipped on the hard court and calling for the doctors to get some treatment at the change of ends at 5-4 when handing serve back.
The Serb fumed at chair umpire Jake Garner over fans yelling out during points and grew more agitated as Murray held on to take the set into a tiebreak and compile a 4-2 lead after a string of attritional rallies.
With the set begging to be put away, Murray flinched, however, serving a double-fault and then rushing to the net, sending a volley an inch past the baseline to give Djokovic a set point.
Hammering a second serve return into the net, the Scot conceded it and a pumped-up Djokovic threw a steely-eyed glance at his player’s box.
Frustrated, Murray channelled his anger into his tennis, jumping out to a 2-0 lead but soon after was chastising himself again.
He conceded 12 straight points to be broken again and fell back to 4-2.
The match was interrupted a game later when two people jumped on the court in an embarrassing security lapse to protest against the Australian government’s off-shore detention of asylum seekers.
The players were forced to wait a few minutes as security restored order and the break gave Murray time to settle.
It was disastrous for Djokovic, however, who lost the momentum and miscued a number of shots to lose serve.
Murray raised his game, taking the match into another tiebreak and raising four set points with a series of baseline rockets.
Djokovic saved two but could do nothing on the third when Murray fired a dipping shot at his shoe-laces.
Murray then rolled into a 2-0 lead in the third set, but handed the break back and bashed the ball high into the night sky in disgust.
The Scot then crumbled in the eighth game, giving Djokovic three break points and then double-faulting to fall behind 5-3.
Djokovic coolly served out the set then went on a tear, breaking Murray twice to roar to a 3-0 lead.
In the end, it was easy for the Djokovic who coasted to his eighth grand slam title with an imperious service game and soaked up the cheers of a packed Rod Laver Arena.