Murray thrills in Djokovic defeat
Andy Murray, tennis’ answer to the expression, “always the bridesmaid, never the bride”, finally made it up the proverbial aisle last night after defeating Novak Djokovic in a thrilling five-set encounter in the final of the US Open that ended 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2.
The odds once again seemed stacked against the British number one, as his opponent had dropped just one set en route to the final; after losing the first 6-2 to David Ferrer in the semi-final, Djokovic had gone on to lose just seven games in the next three sets whilst playing some of his best tennis to dismantle the Spaniard.
Nonetheless there was a feeling at Flushing Meadows that this was finally to be the year when Murray would break his duck and clinch a grand slam title; Rafael Nadal, who holds a 13-5 record in matches against the Scot, withdrew from the tournament though injury before it had even begun, while Roger Federer, who has beaten Murray in three of the four grand slam finals that he has reached, put in a sub-par performance against Czech Tomas Berdych in the quarter finals and lost in four sets.
The only serious threat remaining was the Serbian Djokovic. The two had met once before in a final, Djokovic beating Murray in straight sets to clinch the Australian Open last year. Born just one week apart, their respective careers have diverged somewhat since they both hit the pro circuit. Djokovic had been to eight grand slam finals prior to this year US Open, winning five, while Murray had reached four, winning none. Although the gulf in class between the two players was slight, it was enough to bar Murray from joining the extremely exclusive club of recent grand slam winners.
Between the two of them, Murray and Djokovic had reached the final of every single grand slam this year; the standard of tennis that was expected was therefore understandably high, but the crowd would not be disappointed. The five-set match lasted an incredible four hours and 54 minutes, tying the record set by Murray’s coach Ivan Lendl and Mats WIilander in the 1988 final.
The length of the match was thanks in small part to a exhausting first set in which both were broken once apiece, forcing a tie-break in which Murray would fail to take advantage of his first five set points before finally winning at the sixth attempt. The second set saw the Scot race out to a 4-0 lead, and despite allowing Djokovic to come within one game of tying the set, Murray held his nerve to win 7-5.
Djokovic has played some of the best tennis of his career when his back has been against the wall, and the Serbian came out fighting in the third set. At 3-2 up, he would go on to win nine of the next 12 games to level the match at two sets apiece, as well as setting the stage for a climactic and dramatic fifth set.
Just when it seemed like Murray would fall at the final hurdle for the fifth time in his career, he dug deep to break Djokovic twice in the first three games. The Serbian broke back and held serve to reduce the deficit to one, but after acing out his next service game Murray broke again, and was able to serve out the final set and win his first grand slam title.
The new US Open champion was full of praise for both his opponent and his coach after the victory. “After the third and fourth sets it was really tough for me,” he said. “Novak is such a fighter. I just managed to get through.” About coach Lendl he commented: “He’s one of the greatest players, made eight consecutive finals. I want to thank not just him, but the whole team, who have been there from the start.”
Djokovic gave equal praise to Murray at the end: “I want to congratulate Andy on his first grand slam, he thoroughly deserves it,” said the Serb. “I really tried my best. I gave it my all. It was a tremendous match.”
Catharsis at last for Murray, but the new world number three knows that the pressure is still on to prove that this win was earned through skill and not chance.
The women’s final on Sunday provided spectators with an equally thrilling clash between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, in which the former triumphed in three sets, winning 6-2, 2-6, 7-5. The American has now won four US Open titles, and joins Martina Navratilova as the only two women over 30 to win Wimbledon and US Open titles in the same season.
Williams, who had dominated the Italian Sara Errani in the semi-finals, threatened to do the same again when she took the opening set 6-2. Azarenka proved to be a different kind of challenge, however, as she fought back to take the second set by the same scoreline, and the Belarusian raced to a 5-3 lead in the third. Williams held serve, but Azarenka was presented with the opportunity to serve out the match and become the first person from her native Belarus to win a grand slam.
The 23-year-old crumbled under the pressure, however, and having been broken she allowed Williams to take the next two games too, and consequently the match. “I honestly can’t believe I won,” said a surprised Williams. “I was preparing my runners-up speech – she played so great.”
Azarenka was similarly shocked, and despite praising her opponent’s spirit, remarked laconically that “I gave it all I could.”
And so the 2012 tennis majors draw to a close; the only question remains, will this year be remembered for Murray’s first and only grand slam title, or the first of many?
Theo Chiles, tennis correspondent