Novak Djokovic of Serbia became the first man in the Open era to win the Australian Open three times in a row.
MELBOURNE, Australia — His legs are stronger than in the past. So are his résumé, his nerves and his coaching staff. But Andy Murray of Britain still cannot solve the tennis riddle Novak Djokovic represents at the Australian Open.
But Murray — beaten again in the final Sunday — is in excellent company.
Melbourne and its blue hard courts are nearly a half-world away from the Serbian mountain resort Kopaonik, where Djokovic learned to play the sport, and from the less rugged hills of the Cote d’Azur, in Monaco, where he now makes his home.
But Djokovic, 25, has transformed Melbourne Park into his Grand Slam stronghold: the distant outpost where he is toughest to trump, not just for Murray but for all challengers.
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Djokovic has won four of his six major titles Down Under. No man has beaten him here since 2010, when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France managed it in five sets in the quarterfinals.
Since that match, Djokovic has used the tournament as a launchpad to the No. 1 world ranking and reeled off three straight Australian Open victories, generating innumerable breaches in opponents’ morale with his ability to rise to the big points and to contort and extend his body in successful pursuit of their best shots.
Murray, a former junior rival in Europe and ex-doubles partner, knows Djokovic’s strengths as well as anyone. He shares many of them, but on Sunday, after more than holding his own in the early phases, Murray gradually faded — suffering from a toe blister and a surprising inability to break serve — as the top-seeded Djokovic put the finishing touches on his 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-2 victory.
What seemed grindingly difficult early — the first two sets required 2 hours, 13 minutes to complete — seemed closer to routine by the end as Djokovic accelerated to win in 3:40, which qualified as a middle-distance final in this age of marathons.
“What a joy,” Djokovic said after the match at Rod Laver Arena. “It’s an incredible feeling, winning the trophy once more, and it’s definitely my favorite Grand Slam, my most successful Grand Slam. I love this court.”
Djokovic won his first Grand Slam title here in 2008 and is the first man in the 45-year Open era to win three consecutive Australian Open singles titles. Two other men have won three or more Australian championships in a row: Jack Crawford (1931 to 1933) and Roy Emerson (1963 to 1967).
But neither of those men, both Australians, nor perhaps any other tennis champion has covered the angles and the corners quite like the elastic-limbed Djokovic.
“When he’s on defense, he can actually win the point with one shot; that’s an evolution of the game,” said Andre Agassi, the former American star and four-time Australian Open champion who handed Djokovic the trophy.
|Australian Open consecutive men’s champions:|
|*Stefan Edberg||1985, 87|
|* Australian Open was not contested in 1986 as it switched from December to January|