“You are only coming through in waves/your lips move/but I can’t hear what you’re saying.” – Pink Floyd, “Comfortably Numb” (Waters/Gilmore)
Well, that was a strange one.
Don’t get me wrong. Novak Djokovic proved without a doubt he was the best player for the entire fortnight during the Men’s Singles event for the Australian Open, capping off an impressive tournament by winning his second AO title over Andy Murray 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. The match, as expected, featured some incredible and lengthy baseline rallies between both men that will be remembered as some of the best points played. And the reason they will be easy for fans to remember is that there were only two of such points during the whole match.
The first one came at 4-5 in the first set. After the first seven opening games took almost forty minutes to complete which had many fans wondering if they were indeed going to get a five set marathon, Murray, serving to hold onto the first set, found himself down 15-30. What proceeded was an incredible 39-shot rally that had both men gasping for air afterwards but gave Djokovic two break points allowing him to take the first set 6-4. Even though Murray lost the game and the set, one had to think Murray would work his way into the match and make it a long and tiring night for the Serb.
But it didn’t happen. Murray simply went away. Yes he was hitting balls and yelling out obscenities to get himself going, but his level of play dropped so low that many commentators questioned his level of effort, as if Murray didn’t care. To his credit Murray did prevent getting completely shut out in the second set after he went down 0-5 by taking the next two games, but even though Djokovic’s defense looked impenetrable, Murray could not find a way to either wear Djokovic down or hit enough winners to push Djokovic out of his comfort zone.
The third set provided the second, and most important, rally of the match at 2-1 that had both men scrambling around court, especially Djokovic who found ways to stretch and snag balls that looked completely out of reach before he lined up a screaming down the line backhand winner to break not only Murray’s serve for 3-1, but also break any hopes Murray had of climbing back in the set. Djokovic, going up 5-3, served out the match and the tournament and though he probably felt like jumping into the air, Djokovic kept his celebration a bit tame, likely due out of respect for Murray whom he’s known for a very long time and also due to the very one-sided nature of the whole match, those two memorable points I mentioned excluded.
For Djokovic, this almost perfect match caps off a great event. But for Murray fans, this one has got to hurt. Or maybe they’re also feeling comfortably numb as Murray appeared to be most of the night. In his press conference, when asked about a comment Murray made about feeling better than he did last year after his three set shutout to Roger Federer in the finals, Murray said, “I just do. That’s it. I was in a much worse state last year than I was this year. I don’t know why. That’s it.”
So for a men’s event that started with all of the buzz of a potential “Rafa Slam”, we’re left with a bit of buzz kill only if because fans have once again ended up with a very one-sided Men’s Singles final in a major where the winner was the in-form player of the whole event. Djokovic, having only dropped one set all event, proved he was the man to beat not only in Melbourne but perhaps for the rest of the season and for someone who was written off as a one-Slam wonder not that long ago, his performance this fortnight is truly impressive.
And as for Murray, well, I’m sure he’ll get beaten up by the British press quite a bit over this. Even though some journalists are now trying to compare him to other Grand Slam champions who needed a few finals under their belt before they hoisted the trophy, I feel that Murray might need sometime to absorb this loss. Or at least feel something from it. Murray showed plenty of anger and fight in his match against Djokovic, but like the lyrics to the Pink Floyd song, it was mostly out of sync except for some brief glorious moments. Murray’s state of mind and the state of his game might be described as being in a fog right now, but make no mistake, the one thing that’s very clear in all of that fog is the sight of very determined and very focused “falcon” rising high through it all.