Sunday, February 25, 2018
Sports

For Djokovic, trio sounding sweet

MELBOURNE, Australia — No shirt ripping or bare-chested flexing this time.

Novak Djokovic completed his work before midnight Sunday, defeating Andy Murray in four sets for his third consecutive Australian Open title and fourth overall.

It was the second time in three years Djokovic had beaten his longtime friend in this final. So the celebration was muted: A small shuffle, raised arms, a kiss for the trophy. No histrionics.

"Winning it three in a row, it's incredible," Djokovic said after his 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-2 victory. "It's very thrilling. I'm full of joy right now. … It's definitely my favorite Grand Slam, my most successful Grand Slam. I love this court."

Nine other men had won consecutive Australian titles in the Open era, but none three straight years. Only two other men, American Jack Crawford (1931-33) and Australian Roy Emerson (1963-67), have won three or more consecutive championships here.

A year ago, Djokovic began his season with an epic 5-hour, 53-minute five-set win over Rafael Nadal at the Australian, the longest Grand Slam final. He tore off his shirt to celebrate, the TV replays repeated constantly at this tournament.

Born a week apart in May 1987 and friends since their junior playing days, Djokovic and Murray played like they knew each other's game very well in a rematch of last year's U.S. Open final, when Murray had his – and Britain's — Grand Slam breakthrough at last.

Murray, the Serb's onetime doubles partner, knows Djokovic's strengths as well as anyone. He shares many of them, but after holding his own early he gradually faded — suffering from a toe blister and a surprising inability to break serve.

What seemed grindingly difficult — the first two sets required 2:13 — looked much closer to routine by the end as Djokovic won in 3:40, which qualified as a middle-distance final in this age of marathons.

The difference might have been as light as a feather.

Preparing for a second serve at 2-2 in the second-set tiebreak, Murray was set to toss the ball when he stopped, paused and tried to grab a small white feather that was floating in his view. He went back to the baseline, bounced the ball another eight times and served too long.

After that double fault, Murray didn't get close for the rest of the tiebreaker and was the first to drop serve in the match — in the eighth game of the third set. Djokovic broke him twice in the fourth.

"It was strange," said Djokovic, adding that it swung the momentum his way. "It obviously did. … He made a crucial double-fault."

Murray didn't blame his loss on the one distraction.

"I mean, I could have served. It just caught my eye before I served. I thought it was a good idea to move it," he said. "…You know, at this level it can come down to just a few points here or there."

MIXED DOUBLES: Australians Jarmila Gajdosova and Matthew Ebden, a wild-card entry, won the title 6-3, 7-5 over Czech pair Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak.

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