In the build-up to yesterday's final Andy Murray spoke of having to be at his best if he was to defeat Roger Federer. While the Briton was not quite at the peak of his powers, he was not far off it. Yet he was unable to prevent the imperious Swiss from notching up yet another grand slam title to add to his bulging trophy cabinet.
While made to work harder than the straight-sets scoreline would suggest, Federer was still a worthy champion as he won 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 to claim his 16th major crown in a match that lasted for two hours and 40 minutes. He was the better player in the first two sets, but was forced to work hard in the third by Murray as he came from a break down to take it to a thrilling tiebreak 13-11. It was his fourth Australian Open title to add to his victories in 2004, 2006 and 2007, and he said: "I'm over the moon winning this title again. I played some of the best tennis in my life again over the last two weeks."
It was the first grand slam Federer had won since he became a dad to twin girls Myla Rose and Charlene Riva last summer, and he added: "It's very special to win my first grand slam as a father." Federer will have sent a shiver down the spine of the rest of the players on the ATP Tour when he confirmed he has no intention of easing up and was planning on winning more titles to add to his record haul.
"I haven't put a number on how many grand slams I want to try to win. Whatever happens, happens," he said. "I really want to try to enjoy my end to my career, because I've reached already so many goals I thought were never possible." Murray's first grand slam final, in the US Open in September 2008, ended in a straight-sets loss to Federer and he had been determined to avoid the same fate going into the match.
But his patient tactics, which worked effectively against last year's champion, Rafael Nadal, in the quarter-final and against Marin Cilic in the semi-final came up short against Federer. The tactic of wearing down his opponent with long rallies and well-placed shots into the corners of the court did lead to Federer making the more unforced errors in the match; 42 to Murray's 35. But unfortunately for the Briton he did not have the weaponry to sufficiently trouble his decorated opponent. Federer's recovery play was simply too good for Murray.
So often in proceedings Murray would have Federer in trouble only for a well-weighted shot to find its way back deep into the court and give the Swiss the opportunity to get himself back in the point. Frequently the Briton seemed content to simply stay in rallies, looking to force Federer into an error. Unfortunately that tactic was always going to be dangerous against one of the greatest players to have picked up a racket. Murray was punished by piercing cross-court and backhand winners from Federer.
The final statistics told the story as Federer hit 46 winners to Murray's 29 over the course of the three sets. Both players had began nervously as they exchanged early service breaks, but it was Federer who found his groove quicker as a piercing backhand winner followed by a whipped forehand across the court gave him the decisive break in the eighth game to take the first set. Murray had earlier been unable to take any of his three break points in the fifth game, which would have put him ahead. It was not the only time in the evening that he was left to reflect on what might have been.
Neither player served well in the opening set, but while Federer's improved in the second set, Murray continued to struggle and he was broken in the third game of the second set and that proved enough for Federer to take it. However, the third set proved to be a different story as Murray raced into a 5-2 lead. But Murray failed to serve it out and the match went to a thrilling tiebreak. Murray missed another golden chance to take the match to a fourth set when he fired a forehand into the net with the court open on his second set point.
He would fail to take another three as a pulsating duel finally went Federer's way and the world No 1 took his third championship point when Murray netted another forehand to give him that winning feeling yet again. He was, as ever, a gracious winner. "You played fantastic and you're too good of a player not to win a grand slam, so don't worry about it," he said to Murray. It would have come as a small consolation.