Andy Murray endured a nightmare start to his Australian Open final as Novak Djokovic threatened to embarrass the Scot during a dominant opening set.
The world number one annihilated Roger Federer 6-1 in the first set of his semi-final three days ago and he gave Murray the same treatment, again winning 6-1 with two breaks along the way.
Murray is bidding to end a run of four losing finals in Melbourne, three of which came against Djokovic, but he has never beaten the Serb after going one set down and there was little to suggest he would reverse that trend on Rod Laver Arena.
The world number two set his stall out early, attacking Djokovic’s second serve in the very first exchange and then opening up a break point which his opponent saved with a backhand winner.
Murray’s impetus, however, soon drained away as he thrashed a forehand into the net and then double-faulted to hand Djokovic the break.
When Djokovic feathered a drop shot which Murray failed even to get a racket to, one fan shouted “Give him a chance Novak!” – prompting chuckles among the crowd – and the foundations were laid for a procession as his opponent raced 3-0 clear.
Matters soon became more desperate for Murray, who conceded a second break for 5-0, and while the Briton did finally get on the board it was too little too late as Djokovic served out.
Murray ranted and raged to jolt himself into life but he came under pressure again at 1-1 as a Djokovic pass on the slide carved open the first of four break points.
One forehand into the net had Murray laughing in disbelief and then he was halted by a heckler sarcastically shouting, “Take a bit longer Murray!” after umpire Carlos Ramos had given him a time violation.
Murray: "I just want to congratulate Novak. What he has done, it’s incredible. To him and his team, well done" pic.twitter.com/ltzCVj1TiH— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 31, 2016
A dose of irritation may not have been a bad thing as Murray finally held with an ace and for the first time he began to stretch Djokovic, dictating more rallies and making less mistakes.
Frustrated, Djokovic spiked a ball into the court, but just as Murray looked to have gained a foothold he let it go again, chucking away the break when a backhand flew long.
Down 4-3, Murray dedicated his changeover to a monologue of grumbling, but it did the trick, as he broke back instantly with a line-clipping backhand.
The fightback though was temporary as Djokovic came again at 5-5, winning a 36-shot rally on Murray’s serve, the longest of the match so far, before the Scot fired a tired backhand long.
Djokovic was serving for a two-set lead and despite consecutive double faults, he delivered, cementing his advantage when Murray’s backhand hit the net.
Djokovic's victory puts him level with Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg on 11 Grand Slam titles and moves him within six of Roger Federer #AusOpen— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 31, 2016
The top seed’s record in five-setters is 26-8 but any feint hopes of a comeback were quickly diminishing as a superb backhand winner broke Murray in the opening game of the third.
On the brink, Murray found some fire within and when Djokovic hit long he deservedly broke back for 3-3 to keep himself in with a chance.
Into the tie-break, however, and Murray’s resolve crumbled as he served two double faults, his fourth and fifth of the match, to give Djokovic a 6-1 lead.
Murray pulled two points back but not a third as Djokovic served out with an ace to seal the title and when they met at the net Murray had two words for his conqueror: “too good”.
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