Novak Djokovic likes the Australian Open. It is known colloquially as ‘The Happy Slam’, and in recent years, one man has had more reason to be happy there than most. In the late hours of a Melbourne Sunday, Djokovic defeated Andy Murray to claim his fourth Australian Open title in five years.
After an opening two sets of the utmost quality, the match could not have been more finely balanced at one set apiece. It was at this stage that Murray had won just one more point than Djokovic. The Serb, however, is world number one for a reason and pulled away in the final two sets as Murray began to tire and grow frustrated, giving Djokovic a 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, 6-0 victory.
The final two sets do not reflect the quality that has been produced by Murray’s racquet over the last fortnight, but it was always going to be a tough ask of the Scot to unsettle a man who has won a record five Australian Open titles and never lost a final in Melbourne. As such, this should not be seen as a failed tournament for him but rather a step in the right direction.
Twelve months ago, recovering from back surgery, Murray was knocked out in the quarter-finals and struggling to win a set against the top players.
Fast-forward a year and the Briton was competing in his first Grand Slam final since his memorable Wimbledon victory of 2013. His run to the final in Melbourne will once again elevate him into the top four in the rankings, but also, more importantly, remind him how he became multi-Grand Slam winner.
Significantly, Murray has few points to defend in the coming months and so should be able to continue his rise up the rankings. Moreover, the Australian Open, despite the eventual defeat, should have eased the pressure on coach Amélie Mauresmo, with Murray publicly defending his appointment of the Frenchwoman.
For Djokovic, however, it was reaffirmation of his status as the man to beat this coming season. Winning a maiden French Open in May will be the top priority for the 27-year-old as he aims to complete his career Grand Slam, and if that happens then sizeable amounts of people would certainly risk betting on him to make a clean sweep of the majors this year.
In the women’s draw, Serena Williams faced off against her long-time rival Maria Sharapova in a battle of the top two seeds. Going into the match, the Russian had not beaten the World Number One in 15 attempts, in a period spanning 11 years, and Williams was not about to feel any guilt about inflicting defeat number 16. Despite all her steel and determination, Sharapova failed to shake the jinx of Serena Williams, as she eventually lost 6-3, 7-6. The straight sets score line does not reflect the quality of play, especially in the second set, and it seems that Sharapova has closed the gap slightly on the woman that haunts her tennis nightmares, but ultimately this was to no avail on this occasion.
At 33-years-old, Williams is very much in the second half of her career, but while she continues to dominate there seems no earthly reason as to why she would, or should, call it quits anytime soon. With Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles now just three away and very much in reach, Williams will not struggle to find any motivation to close the gap yet further, or even surpass that record.
Although the season is still in its infancy, it seems that, shockingly, those at the pinnacle of the sport are still very much the two to beat, and 2015 could well be a case of ‘who gets to be runner-up’. With Murray’s return to form however, it provides greater interest into what looks set be another great year of tennis. It is fair to say that all eyes will be on the Scot to see whether he can translate the return to form he displayed in Australia, into tangible success. Reaching his first Grand Slam final in almost two years is a step firmly in the right direction, and one would expect that at the very least he will be in the reckoning for titles. Above all, the Australian Open has certainly whetted the appetite for the year ahead.