ANDY Murray would not make excuses and he would not deny Novak Djokovic a syllable of the praise heaped upon him, but he knew that he was facing an uphill struggle even before he set foot on court in the Australian Open final yesterday.
The match took three hours and 40 minutes of eye-watering effort by the Scot only for him to lose 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-2. Coming on the back of his four-hour marathon against Roger Federer in Friday’s semi-final, it was just one step too far for the world No 3. Djokovic, meanwhile, had played his semi-final – a simple three-set thrashing of David Ferrer – on Thursday, giving him an extra full day of recovery time.
“Sometimes the scheduling works for you, sometimes it doesn’t,” Murray said. “Sometimes I have had luck with that, sometimes it has gone the other way. Anyone who watches the game will know, or in any sport, that if you have longer to recover from matches then the better, obviously.
“That’s something for the tournament to look at. Obviously, the US Open have made some adjustments with their scheduling to try and make it easier for the players to recover, but I’m sure, Craig [Tiley, the tournament director] knows exactly what he’s doing, and they’ll make the right decisions in that respect.”
By the end of the final, Murray was hurting. A blister on his foot and a tight left hamstring hampered his movement and against one of the best defensive players on the planet and one of the best returners in the game, that made the Scot’s task all but impossible.
Even so, this time there were no tears after the defeat and there is unlikely to be any letdown in the coming months. Murray lost a match to the world No 1 and he will sleep easily on the flight home. Beating Djokovic in New York to win his first grand slam trophy last September made sure of that.
“The last few months have been the best tennis of my life,” Murray said. “I made Wimbledon final, won the Olympics, won the US Open. I was close here as well. It was close. I know no one’s ever won a slam, the immediate one after winning their first one. It’s not the easiest thing to do and I got extremely close.
“I have to try and look at the positives of the last few months and I think I’m going the right direction. This is the first time I’ve beaten Roger in a slam over five sets. I think I dealt with the situations and the ebbs and flows in that match well. I felt much more comfortable on the court today than even I did at the US Open, so that has to be a positive.”
His coach, Ivan Lendl, certainly saw the upside of the defeat (although, it is always hard to tell whether Lendl is happy or furious). He knows from experience that winning grand slam titles does not come easy: he lost the next two major finals after his first success at the French Open in 1984.
“Obviously I’m not happy that he didn’t win,” Lendl said, “but I thought he had a very good tournament altogether and played a tough match with Roger, played a very tough match with Novak, and he did very well the first five matches as well. It’s disappointing not to win, but you just have to keep putting yourself in those situations and some of them will come your way eventually.
“As I said in New York, there’s so little in it. If Andy had broken for 2-0 in the second set, who knows what might have happened. He could have run away with it, but there are very little margins, that’s why I don’t want to talk about strategies and weaknesses and I never will. Two or three points, I was just looking at the points and Novak won 13 points more than Andy – 13 points is nothing. 6-3, 6-2 [for the last two sets] looks comfortable but it was only 13 points in the match.”
Murray was attempting to do what no man had done in 20 years: beat the top two men in the world to lift a major trophy. Sergi Bruguera was the last man to do it, beating Pete Sampras in the semi-finals and Jim Courier in the final to win the French Open. Sampras, however, was no clay court player; Federer is a four-time champion at Melbourne Park, as is Djokovic after yesterday’s win. Murray’s task was enormous and yet, with that US Open win to bolster his confidence, it was one he relished.
“I said before the US Open match, I was unbelievably nervous beforehand and was doubting myself a lot,” Murray said. “I didn’t go on the court today having those doubts. I went on the court and felt pretty calm from the beginning of the match.
“I was obviously still nervous, but I think I just felt, I don’t know, more at home in a match like that on a court like that when you’re playing for a grand slam title. I mean, the first few times I played for a grand slam, US Open and here, I definitely struggled with it. Now I feel more comfortable.”
As for his aches and pains, he refused to attribute his defeat to them. Djokovic had just edged him out in a desperately tight contest and at this level of the sport, it is a physical battle. Djokovic was simply the better man on the night and once he got that first break of serve in the third set, he was in charge of the match.
“I think the first two sets I had more of the chances in games on his serve,” Murray said. “I think I had love-40 the beginning of the second set. Then obviously the third and fourth set, I think he broke at 4-3, got up love-40, I saved a couple of them, and then he managed to break.
“Yeah, that was obviously one of the differences. He just returned a little bit better, but it was surprising that there was so few breaks the first three sets.
“The blister didn’t make a difference. It’s just a bit sore when you’re running around. It’s not like pulling a calf muscle or something. It just hurts when you run.”
As they packed up and left the locker room, Lendl was impressed with his charge’s efforts. He won eight grand slam trophies over the course of his career but he did not have to face the likes of Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal every week.
“Andy is getting better and he is getting closer,” Lendl said. “Dani [Vallverdu, Murray’s assistant coach] made a good point, that Andy has been somewhat – I don’t know if you call it unlucky – but he has played always, other than when he lost to Novak here in 2011, he has always played the No 1 player in the world in the finals, and those are difficult to win.
“Agassi beat Rainer Schuttler here, I beat [Miloslav] Mecir. I’m not trying to say they were bad players, however, they were not No 1 at the time they were in the finals. This is the era the way it is, the top four are clearly better than everyone else now. You don’t get No 7 in the finals. It’s just a tough era, as we keep saying. I just hope Andy will keep putting himself in position and something will come his way again.”