MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic became the first man to win three successive Australian Open titles in the professional era when he beat third seed Andy Murray 6-7 7-6 6-3 6-2 in a battle of attrition today.
The Serb, who has now won four of his six grand slam titles in Melbourne, managed to win the important points as the Briton suffered from blisters on his right foot and problems at the top of his left hamstring.
Both players produced superb service games throughout the match with Djokovic the first to achieve a break in the eighth game of the third set, propelling him to the brink of the title after the pair had shared tiebreaks in the first two sets.
Djokovic then capitalised on a flagging Murray, who had battled to a five-set win over Roger Federer on Friday, breaking early in the fourth set and then holding on to clinch the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup for the fourth time.
“What a joy. It’s an incredible feeling to win this trophy again,” Djokovic said. “This is definitely my favourite grand slam. I love this tournament. I love this court.
“I have to congratulate Andy and thank him.
“We have played so many great matches in the last two years. Bad luck for tonight but I wish you best of luck for the season.”
Djokovic was not the only man chasing a record.
U.S. Open champion Murray, who beat Djokovic in the New York final in September, was also hoping to become the first Briton to win the title since Fred Perry in 1934 and the first man to win his second grand slam immediately after winning his first.
Djokovic had the first opportunity to take an advantage when he held four break points in the sixth game, but Murray fought them all off and levelled at 3-3 with a kicking ace down the centre line.
The world number one held another break point in the eighth game, but Murray again saved and forced a tiebreak, which he sealed 7-2 after he had jumped out to a 4-0 lead and never looked like giving it up.
Murray’s first serve, which had caused him problems in the first set, was much better in the second and the Scot reduced the number of unforced errors though neither man looked likely to lose their serve.
The top seeded Djokovic seized the advantage in the tiebreak when Murray double faulted after he had been forced to stop his serve as a feather from birds in the roof fluttered down on court.
That point gave the Serb a 3-2 lead, which he capitalised on to win 7-3 when Murray hit a backhand into the net.
The Briton then took a medical timeout before the third set began to have sticking plaster and strapping tape applied to blisters around the big toe on his right foot and the momentum shifted to the Serbian world number one.
Djokovic, however, waited until the time was right to pounce on Murray’s weakness, which he did in the eighth game when he claimed the first break of the match after almost three hours of play to take a 5-3 lead.
The Serb then blasted through his service game to love to take the third set in a relatively lightning 41 minutes after the first two sets had taken 68 and 65 minutes respectively.
Murray’s foot continued to give him trouble in the fourth set as he was unable to stop abruptly, change direction, or push off properly to generate power.
Djokovic broke in the third game and sensing the finishing line was in sight, achieved a double break in the fifth and sealed the win when a Murray backhand return thudded into the net.
“I’d like to thank Novak,” Murray said.
“His record here is incredible. There are very few people who have managed to do what he has done here.
“He’s an amazing champion, so well done to him.”