If Novak Djokovic’s name was not already in the conversation regarding the greatest to have played the game, it must surely be now after the world No.1 drew level with Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg on 11 Grand Slam singles crowns on Sunday night.
His 6-1 7-5 7-6(3) triumph over world No.2 Andy Murray was his sixth Australian Open title, the fourth time he has taken down the Scot in the Melbourne Park decider, and the 11th time in their past 12 meetings he has emerged triumphant.
The gap between Djokovic and the contenders has never been greater.
The 28-year-old equals Roy Emerson’s Australian Open haul and closes to within six majors of Roger Federer’s record.
“I have to say I’m extremely honoured to be mentioned alongside the legends of our sport, like Rod Laver. Thank you Mr Laver for coming along tonight and making this match special,” Djokovic said from a familiar stance atop the dais, cradling the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup. “Mr Roy Emerson, who is not here tonight, it’s a great privilege to match the record of one of the greatest players to have played this game.”
The loss marks the fifth time Murray had fallen in the Australian Open decider, an Open Era record for any one slam without ever having won it.
Despite holding a break point in the opening game of the match, the Scot was never in the opening set, sending down a double fault to concede his opening service game before rolling a forehand long to concede the double break for 4-0.
A short ace out wide brought the Serb to 40-0 after just 18 minutes. He held to 15 with a wrong-footing forehand winner, leaving a hapless Murray staring down his first bagel set in a final since his opponent closed out last year’s Australian Open decider 6-0.
It was a nerve-settling hold before Djokovic would serve out the opener, clinching it on his third opportunity with a body-jamming serve, 6-1 after 30 minutes.
Heading toward tiebreak territory in the second, Murray found himself up 40-0 on serve at 5-all before losing a 37-shot rally. Djokovic reeled off five straight points to break and served out the set when the No.2 seed dumped a forehand into the net.
If Murray was going to deny the Serb in a five-set final for the second time in his career he would have to do what only one man – Jurgen Melzer – had done before, beat Djokovic from two sets down.
With the third set to be decided by a tiebreak, it was Murray who held the slight edge in Grand Slam finals against Djokovic, having claimed four of the seven they had contested.
Two double faults quickly brought any chance of taking it to a fourth crashing down, Djokovic surging to 6-1.
The world No.1 closed out the result on his third match point with an ace down the T after two hours and 53 minutes before paying tribute to his team.
“Each time we play a Grand Slam it’s a very unique kind of feeling, set of circumstances where all of us have to breathe as one,” Djokovic said. “We live each day, each hour with a purpose and a goal. We’ve been here three weeks hoping we could get to this trophy.”
Roland Garros remains the only major missing. A maiden triumph on the red dirt in Paris would pull Djokovic clear in fourth place on the all-time major winners list behind only Federer, Rafael Nadal and Pete Sampras.
He could pass Nadal and Sampras with a first calendar-year Grand Slam this season.