MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — In five previous Australian Open wins, Novak Djokovic had never felt so much love.
After maintaining his perfect record in six finals at Melbourne Park — and extending his old friend Andy Murray’s streak to five losses from five championship deciders Down Under — Djokovic had hundreds of Serbian fans singing and chanting his name so loudly he could barely hear questions in a TV interview.
While Djokovic was still celebrating his 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (3) victory on Sunday night, equaling Roy Emerson’s record of six Australian titles, Murray was rushing for the airport to catch a flight back to Britain to reunite with his pregnant wife.
“I never experienced this much crowd and this much love,” Djokovic said. “I’ve had the fortune to win this trophy now six times, but I never experienced such support.”
Djokovic has won the last three Grand Slam titles, and four of the last five, to lift his career haul to 11 — equaling Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg in fifth place on the all-time list.
“I don’t take anything for granted, even though I won last four out of five Grand Slams, played five finals, it’s phenomenal,” said Djokovic, reflecting on a period of time in which he was married, became a father and only lost one match in five major championships — the final of the French Open. “No doubt that I’m playing the best tennis of my life in the last 15 months.
“Everything is going well privately, as well, so I feel like I’m at the point in my life where everything is working in harmony. I’ll try to keep it that way.”
His next objective is a first Grand Slam title on clay to complete his collection. Djokovic has reached three finals at Roland Garros, but never won the French Open.
After getting on his hands and knees and kissing the court at Rod Laver Arena, and going to the stands to hug Boris Becker, his coach since 2014, Djokovic paid tribute to Murray in his post-match speech.
“You’re a great champion, great friend, a great person who is very professional and committed to this sport,” he said. “So I’m sure in the future you’ll have more opportunities to fight for this trophy.”
As a father himself, he didn’t want to delay Murray’s departure.
The 28-year-old Scotsman had his share of distractions in Australia. His wife, Kim, is due to have their first child in February and didn’t travel with him. Kim’s father, Nigel Sears, was in Australia as coach for Ana Ivanovic, but became ill and had to be rushed to a nearby hospital by ambulance while Murray was on court in his third-round match. After a night in hospital, Nigel Sears was well enough to return home, which meant Murray could stay in Australia and try to refocus on winning the title.
“It’s been a tough few weeks for me away from the court,” Murray said in his post-match speech, before turning his attention to his wife.
“You’ve been a legend the last two weeks. Thank you so much for all your support,” he said, choking back tears and waving as he walked away from the microphone. “I’ll be on the next flight home.”
A little more than a half-hour later, at 11:15 p.m. local time, Murray said he was aiming for a 1 a.m. flight.
“It’s been hard, regardless of today’s result,” he said. “I’m proud I got into this position — just quite looking forward to get home now.”
Murray became only the second man to lose five finals at one major — Ivan Lendl lost five and won three U.S. Open finals in the 1980s.
Djokovic had won 10 of his previous 11 matches against Murray and was 21-9 in their career meetings — including four finals at the Australian Open.
Again, he was just too good.
Djokovic broke Murray twice in a 30-minute opening set, and twice again in the second and once in the third, and only had his serve broken twice.
He took a 6-1 lead in the tiebreaker, setting up five championship points, and finished it off with an ace in 2 hours, 53 minutes.
While Djokovic extended his perfect streak to six in Australian finals, Serena Williams’ streak of 6-0 in Melbourne Park deciders ended in an upset loss to Angelique Kerber on Saturday night. Kerber went for a dip in the Yarra River on Sunday morning after a night of celebrations after prolonging Williams’ bid to equal Steffi Graf’s record 22 majors in the Open era.