By Shane Thomas
Novak Djokovic beats Andy Murray 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 to win the 2011 Australian Open
Britain's 76 year wait for a Grand Slam tennis champion goes on after Andy Murray took a battering from the Serbian, Novak Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open. What promised to be the tightest of finals became a procession after a hard-fought first set, in which Djokovic's fierce ball-striking cut Murray to ribbons. Figuratively at least, Djokovic didn't beat Murray, he beat Murray up.
While the Serb was magnificent and bossed the match from the first point, the manner of Murray's defeat was extremely disheartening. He produced an error-strewn display, with a stream of unforced errors coming off his racket. Djokovic meanwhile, didn't miss a thing. His groundstrokes consistently found the corners of the court, making Murray race around in desperation just to stay in the rallies.
What was responsible for Murray's lacklustre display is something of a mystery. Maybe he was feeling the effects of a tough semi-final match against David Ferrer on Friday. And Djokovic had an extra day's rest after winning his semi-final against Roger Federer on Thursday. But this would be clutching at the thinnest of straws. Where Murray looked sluggish, Djokovic looked primed. Where Murray's groundstrokes lacked intensity, the ball flew of "Nole's" racket as if fired from a cannon.
The result should not come as a surprise to those who thought that with Federer and Rafael Nadal eliminated, the path was clear for Murray to break his Grand Slam duck. I posted on here after the US Open that the "Djoker" had finally grown up at the back end of last year. Reaching the final in Flushing Meadows, while also inspiring Serbia to a maiden triumph in the Davis Cup was testament to the mental improvements he'd made to his proficient on-court prowess. I only wish I'd put my money where my mouth is as I had a hunch that Djokovic would add to the Australian Open title he won in 2008.
Sadly, the manner of this loss will cast serious doubts on Murray's ability to attain the Grand Slam he so desperately craves. And this time, we can't use the excuse of "Well, Federer's the greatest of all time. It's no disgrace to lose to him." It's no disgrace to lose to Djokovic either. But the facts have a leadening quality to them. Murray has beaten the very best in the game, but is falling short too often when it matters most. He has not only lost all three of his Grand Slam finals, but he is yet to win a set in any of them.
This is not to devalue Djokovic's performance. I think he would have beaten anyone in the world playing as he did. But Murray's execution on the Rod Laver Arena was far too acquiescent. This is starting to develop from a minor gripe into a mental block. How often can we say "He'll win one day", before Murray goes down the route of the likes of Tim Henman or Jimmy White?
While it would be folly to write Murray off, time waits for no-one, especially in sport. While Djokovic actively chased glory in Melbourne, Murray looked more like a guy at a bus stop running late for work, who doesn't realise that his bus has been cancelled.
I also fear that the moronic but vocal minority of "Murray haters" will grow ever louder (if you idiots can ever justify why you're so mean-spirited towards him, please let me know). After losing to Roger Federer in lat year's final, Murray was engulfed by a personal ennui and struggled to win a match for about six months. He cannot afford to allow his head to drop again. There is a finite amount of sand in every hourglass. For the first time, you wonder if it will run out without a Grand Slam success for the best British player in a generation.
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