MELBOURNE (AFP) – Novak Djokovic wore down Andy Murray in a gruelling four-set final to clinch a hat-trick of Australian Open titles in attritional style on Sunday.
The Serbian world number one lost the opening set in a tiebreaker but got progressively stronger to dominate the suffering Murray and win 6-7 (2/7), 7-6 (7/3), 6-3, 6-2 in 3hr 40min.
It was Djokovic’s fourth Australian crown and his sixth Grand Slam title overall, and confirmed him as the game’s premier player.
Djokovic, 25, became the first man in the Open Era and only the third man ever to win three consecutive Australian Open titles, joining Australians Jack Crawford (1931-33) and five-time winner Roy Emerson (1963-67).
Murray, the British world number three, began strongly but he battled a left hamstring injury and blistered feet as Djokovic stepped up, winning the important points and most of the lung-busting long rallies.
It was Djokovic’s second win over Murray in a Grand Slam final after the 2011 Australian final, and ended the Scot’s unbeaten 13-match run in the majors since his victory over the Serb in last September’s US Open decider.
Djokovic reaffirmed his standing as the number one ranked player while Murray will remain in the third position behind Roger Federer.
It continued Djokovic’s dominance on the Melbourne hardcourt surface and capped an impressive fortnight where he recovered from a draining five-setter over five hours with Stanislas Wawrinka to score emphatic wins over Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer to reach the final.
In a tight opening set, Murray saved five break points over two service games before it was decided by a tiebreaker.
The Scot played virtually the perfect tiebreaker with three mini-breaks against the wavering Djokovic to go one set up after 68 hard-fought minutes.
And the Serb had to fight off three break points on his opening service in the second set as Murray remained in control.
Yet again both players held their serve and the final went into a second tiebreaker, but this time Djokovic was the steadier player winning 7/3 to level the match at the 2hr 13min mark.
The turning point came in the eighth game of the third set when Djokovic won a psychologically important point off an exhausting 36-stroke rally, leaving the Serb smiling and the Scot gasping.
Djokovic turned up the heat and got the first service break of the final, after 2hr 51min, on his third break point and then served out for a two sets to one lead.
Murray was having problems with his left hamstring and was troubled going to his forehand side as Djokovic began to take the ascendancy early in the fourth set.
He got two break points in Murray’s second service game and the top seed again came out on top after a sapping 26-stroke rally, breaking the Scot’s serve a second time and consolidated for a 3-1 lead.
The end approached as Murray double-faulted on break point in his next service game, handing Djokovic a 4-1 with the finish line in sight.
Djokovic served out for the championship and clinched it on his first match point when Murray netted a backhand.