There were no tears, no roars, not even a chest thump after Novak Djokovic beat Andy Murray 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 on Sunday for his second career Major and second Australian Open title. After playing a decisive, unforgiving match vs. his buddy Andy Murray, the Champ simply raised his arms aloft – a gesture of confidence, as if he knew all along. He then gave his opponent a warm embrace and stripped off a few sweaty mementos for the crowd, before giving one of his serious, statesman-like speeches (because for all of his antics, he has a dead serious side as well, does the Djoker.) Besides reminding folks to remember victims of the Australian flooding, he said he hoped his victory reflected well on Serbia, his home country. Ana Ivanovic was in his box, helping out in this regard. A flag waving, red, white and blue-clad crowd chanted from all corners of Rod Laver Arena: Nole! Nole! Nole!
No doubt, Nole was perfect.
Too bad the match was a dud.
This match was billed as the meeting of the sport’s next two Major rivals. ESPN introduced the final with footage of tournament staff taking down the large photos of Federer and Nadal from Melbourne Park’s main signboard, like images of an invading army toppling statues in a public square. Fedal is Dead, long live Djokurray!
Instead we get this from The Independent:
It could have been worse. He could have been ‘bagelled’. He could have cried on the podium.
Poor Andy. He was no match for Novak this time around. I thought playing someone other that Roger Federer, especially someone he knows well and has beaten tidily in the past, would free him up to play his best tennis. Even if Djokovic was playing too well to lose this tournament, the least the Scot could have done was keep us entertained. Instead he played the kind of blunted, lackluster tennis of Major final nightmares. Somewhere in Moscow, Dinara Safina lets out a long, low sigh.
Before I get too melodramatic, let’s remember that Murray can look to the legends for commiseration – and inspiration. As the Independent also points out, Ivan Lendl lost four major finals before his breakthrough and Andre Agassi needed three. The only other man in the Open Era to share Murray’s pain, Goran Ivanisevic, also won a title – eventually. Let’s hope this feeling of inevitability keeps Murray from an early retirement.
Q. It took you a little over three months to recover last year, yet you seem to be saying you can handle it better now, not have the same effect.
ANDY MURRAY: I don’t know. Might do. But right now I feel better than I did last year. I’ll see what I do from here, you know. I don’t know, I might not play for a few months. I might feel like playing in a week’s time. It depends. See how I feel.
The expectations weren’t all media-generated. On paper, these guys have what it takes to collectively capture the public’s imagination. They’re similar in age and – Major title aside – in accomplishments. Neither was an underdog in this match, and it was hard to pick a favorite. They enjoy their best results on hard courts and can play defense as well as offense. Their games are different from one another but not aesthetic foils. Both have compelling childhood stories, endure intense scrutiny at home and have paid their dues on tour. When two such evenly matched players take to the court, you expect it come down to inches. You hope they push each other to greater heights. You want them to claw and scrape and bite for the smallest advantage. It didn’t happen this time, but that doesn’t mean it never will.
Novak took a moderate view:
Q. There are a few people saying now that because Rafa and Roger went out before the final, the tide is turning, a changing of the guards, so to speak. Do you feel that’s the case?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Still Rafa and Roger are the two best players in the world. No question about that. You can’t compare my success and Murray’s success to their success. They’re the two most dominant players in the game for a while. All the credit to them.
It’s nice to see that there are some new players in the later stages of Grand Slams fighting for a title. That’s all I can say.
But he does think we’ve entered a new era of tennis, saying the quality of play has improved even since he won Down Under in 2008. (Though I preferred his four set win over Tsonga that year, to this year’s measured, professional victory.)
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I think tennis has improved so much in the last couple of years. It’s incredible. To compare the tennis from 2007, ‘8, to the tennis of 2010, ’11, I have the feeling the ball is traveling much faster, they’re big hitters, big servers.
But as any old 80’s tennis freak will tell you – it’s not only the quality of play that counts when it comes to compelling tennis. It’s personality and match-ups that matter. Roger and Rafa display enough contrasts, despite their good-natured personalities, to set-off fireworks when they meet on the court.
Bottom line: Is this a rivalry we can care about?