MELBOURNE, Australia >> No shirt ripping or bare-chested flexing this time.
Novak Djokovic completed his work before midnight, defeating Andy Murray in four sets for his third consecutive Australian Open title and fourth overall.
It was also the second time in three years Djokovic had beaten his longtime friend in this final. So the celebration was muted: a small victory shuffle, raised arms, a kiss for the trophy. No grand histrionics, although that’s not to say the moment was lost on him.
“Winning it three in a row, it’s incredible,” Djokovic said after his 6-7 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2 victory Sunday night. “It’s very thrilling. I’m full of joy right now. It’s going to give me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season, that’s for sure.”
Nine other men had won consecutive Australian titles in the Open era, but none three straight years. One of them was Andre Agassi, who presented Djokovic with the trophy.
A year ago, Djokovic began his season with an epic 5-hour, 53-minute five-set win over Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open, the longest Grand Slam final. He tore off his shirt to celebrate, the TV replays repeated constantly at this tournament.
He mimicked that celebration after coming back to beat Stanislas Wawrinka in five hours in a surprisingly tough fourth-round victory this time.
Since then, he’s looked every bit the No. 1 player. He said he played “perfectly” in his 89-minute win over fourth-seeded David Ferrer in the semifinals Thursday night. Murray struggled to beat 17-time major winner Roger Federer in five sets in the semifinals Friday night, and still had the bad blisters on his feet to show for it in the final.
In a final that had the makings of a classic when two of the best returners in tennis were unable to get a break of serve in the first two sets that lasted 2:13, the difference may have hinged on something as light as a feather.
Preparing for a second serve at 2-2 in the second set tiebreaker, Murray was rocking back about to toss the ball when he stopped, paused and then walked onto the court and tried to grab a small white feather that was floating in his view. He went back to the baseline, bounced the ball another eight times and served too long.
After being called for a double-fault, Murray knocked the ball away in anger and flung his arm down. He didn’t get close for the rest of the tiebreaker and was the first to drop serve in the match — in the eighth game of the third set. Djokovic broke him twice in the fourth set, which by then had turned into an easy march to victory.
“It was strange,” said Djokovic, adding that it swung the momentum his way. “It obviously did. … He made a crucial double-fault.”
Murray didn’t blame his loss on the one distraction.
“I mean, I could have served. It just caught my eye before I served. I thought it was a good idea to move it,” he said. “Maybe it wasn’t because I obviously double-faulted.
“You know, at this level it can come down to just a few points here or there. My biggest chance was at the beginning of the second set — didn’t quite get it. When Novak had his chance at the end of the third, he got his.”
Djokovic had five break-point chances in the opening set, including four after having Murray at 0-40 in the seventh game, but wasn’t able to convert any of them.
Then he surrendered the tiebreaker with six unforced errors. Murray appeared to be the stronger of the two at the time. He’d beaten Djokovic in their last Grand Slam encounter, the U.S. Open final, and had the Serb so off balance at times in the first set that he slipped to the court and took skin off his knee.
Murray held serve to open the second set and had three break points at 0-40 in the second game, but Djokovic dug himself out of trouble and held.
“After that I felt just mentally a little bit lighter and more confident on the court than I’ve done in the first hour or so,” Djokovic said. “I was serving better against him today in the first two sets than I’ve done in any of the match in the last two years.”
Djokovic said he loves playing at Rod Laver Arena, where he won his first major title in 2008. He now has six Grand Slam titles altogether. Federer has won four of his 17 majors at Melbourne Park, and Agassi is the only other player to have won that many in Australia since 1968.
Djokovic was just finding his way at the top level when Agassi retired in 2006, but he had watched enough of the eight-time major winner to appreciate his impact.
“He’s I think one of the players that changed the game — not just the game itself, but also the way the people see it,” Djokovic said. “So it was obviously a big pleasure and honor for me to receive the trophy from him.”
Agassi was among the VIPs in the crowd, along with actor Kevin Spacey and Victoria Azarenka, who won the women’s final in three sets against Li Na the previous night.
Murray broke the 76-year drought for British men at the majors when he won the U.S. Open last year and said he’ll leave Melbourne slightly more upbeat than he has after defeats here in previous years.
“The last few months have been the best tennis of my life. I mean, I made Wimbledon final, won the Olympics, won the U.S. Open. You know, I was close here as well,” he said. “No one’s ever won a slam (immediately) after winning their first one. It’s not the easiest thing to do. And I got extremely close.
“So, you know, I have to try and look at the positives of the last few months, and I think I’m going the right direction.”