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Melbourne belongs to Djokovic as Serbian spirit prevails yet again


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Novak DjokovicThe Rod Laver Arena crowd didn’t have to wait as long as last year for the conclusion of the Australian Open final on Sunday morning – but the end result was exactly the same.

Novak Djokovic, the most consistent and unrelenting force in world tennis right now, had reigned supreme at Melbourne once again – his fourth win there overall and third in a row.

In so doing, the iron-willed world number one had created history. Not even Rod Laver himself or 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer has ever won three Australian Opens in a row.

No one in the Open Era had. Until now.

And what spirit it took; a never-say-die attitude and a relentless determination to reach every last ball.

But none of this is anything new. A man of steel, Djokovic has been doing this his whole career. And at the age of 25, the Serbian has already cemented his name amongst the all-time greats, even though he still easily has several years at the top left in him.

“It’s definitely my favourite Grand Slam,” he said during his victory speech after a 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-2 triumph over Britain’s Andy Murray in the final. “I love this court.”

And just how he must love it. Murray has now been on the receiving end of a convincing battering both times he has tried to wrestle the Australian Open title out of Djokovic’s hands in the final. Sandwiched in between those two occasions was last year’s marathon encounter in which Djokovic came back from 5-2 down in the fifth set to beat Rafael Nadal.

He just keeps doing it. He never gives up. He simply epitomises the fighting spirit of the ultimate competitor.

And he foreshadowed Sunday’s victory only two months ago at the 02 Arena, when an on-song Federer had danced himself into a position to serve for the set on two occasions.

Both times, Djokovic bounced back like an impenetrable brick wall, turning a certain defeat into a straight sets victory.

It was more of the same today. Things weren’t happening for Djokovic early on. Murray had dominated the first set tiebreak after the Serbian served a double fault during the first point.

That was all the world number three needed and he played with aplomb throughout the breaker and then the second set, attacking with his forehand and matching Djokovic from the baseline in every rally. Murray has reportedly added 1.5kg of muscle since winning the US Open and his increased strength and power was on show for all to see.

But in that second set, you sensed that Murray’s ever so slight ascendancy would be what would ultimately lose him this final – and through no fault of his own.

During Murray’s best spell, there was a moment when Djokovic lost his composure and roared with frustration. Yet this was simply the moment the lion was let out of his cage.

From thereon in, the Serbian took total control, winning the second set to level the match and dominating the next two to set up what in the end proved a straightforward victory.

Murray, of course, will have his day, while he was impeded on Sunday by a visible lack of mobility due to his foot being covered with blisters. Arguably, though, the 25-year-old already has had his day. His victory over Djokovic at the US Open in September got the monkey off his back and gave Britain their first Grand Slam winner in 76 years.

But more will surely be on its way for the Scot; Murray will be the home favourite at Wimbledon this summer, while Flushing Meadows – with its often wild outdoor conditions – suits him better than Australia.

Down under, the indomitable force of Serbian spirit just seems too much. There always seems to be one more ball to return, one more shot in the rally and one more Grand Slam triumph for one of tennis’ most stubborn and determined players.

Indeed, however hard Murray and the rest may try, Melbourne, it seems, will always belong to Djokovic.

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