Djokovic prevails over Murray overseas in tight finish

Questions raised about tennis’ “Big Four” from last year’s Grand Slam season had their answers before the final round of the Australian Open. Could Rafael Nadal, a walking Operation board, regain his form? Thanks to a first-round exit, his only chance at a major title could exclusively be on clay. Does 34-year-old Roger Federer have enough left in the tank to add an 18th trophy to his ledger? A swift loss in the semifinals to top-ranked Novak Djokovic was disheartening, but advancing as far as he did proved Fed still deserves to be ranked third in the world. Is Djokovic capable of maintaining his indomitable form? Cruising to the championship round seemed to cement his status. The final matchup was vital to answering another question: would four-time runner-up Andy Murray be able to get over the hump in Melbourne?

With Rod Laver Arena still buzzing from the previous night’s upset, Murray was intent on rectifying last year’s defeat to Djokovic in the same spot. The always-fiery Scotsman had plenty on his mind besides tennis; his wife Kim Sears was due to give birth to their first child within weeks and Murray firmly asserted he would leave the tournament to be with her if she were to go into labor. Luckily for Djokovic, his wife had their son over a year ago, so he was not quite as distracted as his opponent and longtime frenemy. Murray could have meditated with Buddhist monks the night before; nothing was stopping the buzzsaw that is Djokovic.

If match-fixing scandals were not already prominent in tennis, this match would have sounded some alarms. From the opening serve, Djokovic had the composure, focus and control Murray desperately craved. The Serbian held his ground at the center of the court, guiding the world’s number two player like a puppeteer in each rally. Murray endured a five-set match against Milos Raonic in the previous round and appeared gassed early on. Down 0-5 and serving to keep the first set alive, Murray countered a Djokovic net approach with a lunging forehand winner. The champ rebounded with a smashing serve that ate up Murray, causing a fluttering return to plop into the net, sealing the first set in 30 minutes.

Murray made the match competitive in the second set, but it required all his might to simply hold serve. A 36-shot rally when the combatants were tied at five games apiece featured the agility, strength and stamina one could take for granted from top-class tennis stars. Once again, unforced errors were the name of the game as he squandered a break point with three consecutive woeful shots to fall two sets to none. The reigning champion began the third set with a backhand winner, curling around the net to break Murray’s serve and spirit. He fought back into the set to force a tiebreaker, only to be mercifully aced out of the match by the now six-time Aussie Open titleholder.

It was deja vu for the Brit as he earned the dubious record of 0-5 in Australian Open finals with four losses at the hands of Djokovic. This marked the most losses in the final of a Grand Slam event without a win, though Murray does have a Wimbledon and a U.S. Open title to his name. He saved special praise to his wife back in the U.K. for last. “I thank you so much for your support and I’ll be on the next flight home,” Murray uttered into the microphone while choking up. He will certainly have easier weeks ahead of him, until he faces Djokovic again.

Djokovic has won 94 of his last 100 matches since the start of 2015, is 36-5 versus the top 10 and is in the prime of his career. All that is left for him to conquer is an elusive French Open title in May. The “Big Four” era is over. The Djoker now reigns as king.