Tennis ironman Novak Djokovic has etched his name in the history books with a bruising four-set Australian Open final triumph over Andy Murray.
The world No.1 wore down Murray 6-7 (2-7) 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 6-2 in a three-hour, 40-minute war of attrition to become the first man to complete an Australian Open hat-trick in the 45-year professional era.
Only two other men, American Jack Crawford (1931-33) and Australian Roy Emerson (1963-67), have won three or more consecutive Australian championships.
Djokovic’s victory avenged his five-set final loss to Murray at last year’s US Open and drew the Serb level on the all-time grand slam leaderboard with modern-day greats Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg with six career majors.
The 25-year-old’s fourth Open crown also matched the record of Roger Federer and Andre Agassi, who fittingly was on hand to present the trophies to the two final combatants at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday night.
“What a joy. It’s an incredible feeling winning this trophy once more,” Djokovic said.
“It’s definitely my favourite grand slam. I love this court.”
Murray had been eyeing his own slice of history as the first man ever to hold the Olympic, US Open and Australian Open titles simultaneously – but instead suffered his fifth defeat in six grand slam finals.
But he was gracious in defeat.
“Novak, his record here is incredible. Very few people have been able to do what he’s done here and he’s a well-deserved champion,” said Murray, runner-up in Melbourne in 2010, 2011 and now again.
After missing a real chance to claim a two-sets-to-love advantage, the Scot appeared to suffer a hamstring injury – possibly scar tissue from his sapping five-set semi-final win over Federer 48 hours earlier – and was unable to match the supreme physical conditioning of his great rival.
Last year’s famous final between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was the longest in grand slam history, an epic stretching five hours, 53 minutes and finishing at almost two o’clock Monday morning.
And with the past two major meetings between Djokovic and Murray both lasting almost five hours as well, a repeat of the 2012 title marathon looked a possibility for more than two sets as the baseline gladiators slugged it out relentlessly from the back court.
Djokovic had five break-point chances in the opening set, including four after having Murray at love-40 in the seventh game, but his inability to convert proved costly.
Murray forced a tiebreaker and Djokovic handed it to the Scot with six unforced errors.
On a roll, Murray won 10 straight points – and 17 of 19 – to surge ahead 1-0 in the second set and suddenly have Djokovic under extreme pressure at love-40.
But the Serb dug deep to save and the service hold proved critical as the second set almost inevitably was decided almost an hour later in another tiebreaker.
On this occasion, it was Murray who lost his nerve, the third seed double-faulting after a feather blew onto the court to gift Djokovic the vital mini-break.
The top seed needed no second invitation back into the match and was on level terms after two hours, 13 minutes, and then delivered a hammer blow in the eighth game of the third set.
After the pair shared 31 straight service holds, Djokovic pressed to break Murray for 5-3 and closed out the set to be in front for the first time all match after two hours and 54 minutes.
Djokovic could smell blood when he broke Murray for a 2-1 lead in the fourth set and moved in for the kill.
All hope was lost for Murray when he double-faulted to hand Djovokic the decisive double break for 4-1 and the Serb triumphed on his first match point when a weary Murray netted a backhand.