Andy Murray's grand slam final misery continued yesterday when he was comprehensively beaten by Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open.
The British No 1 looked out of sorts from the off and was second best throughout a one-sided encounter as Djokovic followed up his 2008 success in Melbourne with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 triumph in two hours and 39 minutes.
Murray has now appeared in three grand slam finals but is yet to win a set - a record in the open era - with this latest setback likely to be the hardest to stomach. The first two defeats, at the US Open in 2008 and here 12 months ago, saw him lose to an overwhelming favourite in Roger Federer, but he came into this contest seemingly on a par with Djokovic. What transpired will haunt Murray for some time.
His first serve rating was a lowly 53 per cent, his groundstrokes continually missed their target and his body language was negative while his movement, so often his strength, proved another weakness, his footwork frequently bordering on the amateurish.
Murray's travails should not detract from Djokovic's achievement, however. He has been knocking on the door ever since beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga here three years ago but often saw his quest for a second major flounder against either Federer or Rafael Nadal - arguably the two greatest players of all time.
But his greater desire ensured he was not to be denied this time. Murray at least competed in the first set as the two men probed for a weakness in a nervy opening.
The 23-year-old from Dunblane had to overcome an awful start, losing the first six points, before saving a break point to make it 1-1. The match remained on serve until 4-5 at which point it started to go wrong for Murray.
The alarm bells were ringing at 15-30 on the Scot's serve and the situation became even more dangerous when a fantastic 38-shot rally, which saw both players take and lose the initiative, went the way of Djokovic as he brought up two set points. And Murray was unable to come through, a long forehand proving to be out after a challenge.
With the first set in the bag, Djokovic was starting to cut loose and, after holding serve easily, two booming groundstrokes, one off each side, handed him a break point and the chance to further strengthen his grip on the match.
Murray saved it with a big first serve but a netted backhand presented Djokovic with a second opportunity which, having used Hawk-Eye to prove an ace was out, he took when easily chasing down a poor drop-shot before ripping a cross-court winner.
Another comfortable hold from Djokovic quickly saw him establish a 3-0 lead and extend his run of consecutive games won to five.Murray was starting to implode and the Scot handed Djokovic a double break and a 4-0 advantage with an awful game which contained three unforced errors, two off the forehand side.
Djokovic was in no mood to let up and he made it 5-0 before Murray finally got on the board courtesy of a big ace out wide. Belatedly, Murray got his first break of the match to pull it back to 5-2, but it proved to be brief respite as a stunning forehand on the run gave Djokovic a set point which he converted when the Briton netted a forehand.
Murray desperately needed a good start to the third set if he was to salvage anything from what was starting to become a chastening experience.
And he got precisely that as, after Djokovic missed a makeable drive volley on game point, he set up a break point and took it with a fantastic forehand down the line. But the hangdog expression was quick to return as Murray promptly threw away his advantage when, from 30-30, he looped a terrible forehand wide and then hammered a smash out of court.
A swift hold from Djokovic was followed by a break as the Serb, at the seventh opportunity, cracked a magnificent backhand pass down the line to move 3-1 up.
Perhaps sensing he was running out of time, Murray started going for a little more and he broke back to get the set back on serve when Djokovic dumped a drop-shot into the net.
Murray had to save a break point to level for 3-3 and he found himself taken to deuce once more in his next service game. This time the Scot was unable to escape the danger as he hit a running forehand into the middle of the net.
Serving for the championship, Djokovic displayed a few nerves but managed to get over the line when Murray netted another forehand.