Andy Murray may still be without a Grand Slam title but after his performance against Novak Djokovic earlier today, there’ll be a growing number of people who believe that it is only a matter of time before that changes.
Under the coaching of Ivan Lendl – himself a four-time Australian Open finalist, winning two – Murray has already shown signs of progression.
The contrast between the tame, straight sets defeat that Murray suffered in last year’s final, and today’s match could not have been greater.
The 2011 Australian final was not even a contest. Djokovic went into the competition on the back of an impressive run of form which began in the summer of 2010 and included a series of outstanding performances in the US Open, a tournament which he would have seen success in had it he not faced an inspired Rafa Nadal in the final.
Casual British observers and sections of the British press got excited at the prospect that Murray would finally lift a Grand Slam title, based on the fact that he wasn’t up against Federer or Nadal. But to the majority, Djokovic was the in-form red-hot favourite and the win that he went on to secure was the first of many during a record-breaking calendar year.
Twelve months on, Djokovic remains the best tennis player in the world. Not only a supremely talented player, but one who is now up there with the toughest competitors on the tour, able to match even the likes of Nadal and Hewitt for sheer guts and determination.
None of those players know when they are beaten and that has often been an area where Murray has let himself down during the majors. While he provides a match for any player, both in terms of desire and ability, he has shown a tendancy to self destruct at crucial times, particularly when matches have started to slip away.
There was none of that today, though.
After losing the first set to Djokovic and then suffering an immediate break of serve in the second to go 0-2 down, Murray dug deep and took six of the next seven games, including three straight breaks of the Djokovic serve to level the match.
He took the next set, too, after saving five set points.
Djokovic ran away with the fourth and looked all set for victory after securing the all important break in the fifth and final set on the way to establishing a 5-2 lead. Murray again needed to give everything he had in order to hold serve and stay in the game, and followed up by breaking Djokovic to love.
The quality of tennis on display was breathtaking, with neither player showing the signs of fatigue that they’d have been fully entitled to show following the effort that both had given.
In the end it was Djokovic who survived a trio of break points which Murray earned at 5-5, and he went on to break the Scot and qualify for his third Melbourne final, and his seventh at Grand Slam events.
Unlike the aftermath of Murray’s previous Grand Slam final defeats, which have all been in straight sets, or following the brutal beatings handed out to him by Rafa Nadal at Wimbledon and US Open last season, no questions will need to be asked of Murray’s performance this time.
It would be premature to get too carried away after an improved showing on what has traditionally been Murray’s favourite surface of all the grand slams, but after matching the world’s best for five hours, he has emphatically answered the question of whether he genuinely has what it takes.
As Djokovic did last year, Murray needs to maintain such a level consistently. If he does, his time will not be far away.