Fresh from his US Open crown last year, Andy Murray headed to Brisbane for the Australian Open hoping to follow up his first ever Grand Slam with a victory Down Under to assert his credentials ahead of another packed year of tennis.

Making a point | Andy Murray looks up to the heavens after beating Ričardas Berankis to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open. (Image | The Telegraph)

Making a point | Andy Murray looks up to the heavens after beating Ričardas Berankis to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open. (Image | The Telegraph)

Scotsman Murray sailed through the opening rounds, seeing off Robin Haase, João Sousa, Ričardas Berankis, Gilles Simon and Jérémy Chardy in straight sets, before taking on old enemy Roger Federer in the semi-finals.

Having become accustomed to losing against the Swiss when it matters, such as in the 2008 US Open final, 2010 Australian Open final and Wimbledon final last year, Murray instead held his nerve against Federer to take the final set in a thrilling match last week.

Much like the 2012 Wimbledon final, Murray claimed the first set with relative ease, but was pegged back on a tie-break in the second, a pattern that was also repeated, albeit with a few slight differences, by Novak Djokovic at Flushing Meadows back in September.

Simon Briggs of The Telegraph called it a “five-set thrashing”, praising Murray’s improved mental resolve and determination not to be thrown by a resurgent opponent.

Where the 25-year-old may have fallen before, following the second and fourth sets, both of which were won by Federer on a tie-break, he rose and the final set was a relatively swift affair, which speaks volumes of his improvement as a player this past year.

Although Federer remained in the match largely because of his incredible skill, which truly sets him apart as a tennis great, Murray was better on serves, more aggressive, and unflappably calm.

His opponent said after the match: “After the wins at the Olympics and the US Open, maybe there’s just a little bit more belief or he’s a bit more calm overall.

“You want to be excited, but you don’t want to go overly crazy, each and every point. So it seems like he has more peace when he plays out there, and in the process he has better results.”

His view that Murray has now “found peace” on the court certainly rang true last year, where he learned to control himself and deal with the weight of expectation.

This was on show in Australia as well, with Murray celebrating his victory over Federer in a rather demure manner, knowing that he would have a bigger challenge to come.

Interestingly, many in Britain had already written off Djokovic for Sunday’s final, because “Murray beat him last time”. It was to be a breeze for the new conquerer of all and sundry, his chance to top the sporting world once again.

Struggle

Yet the Serbian was not to be such an easy scalp: indeed, Oliver Holt referred to his 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-2 loss as “phase two jubilation” for his detractors, but although there was only one winner, this was a victory for Djokovic, rather than a defeat for Murray.

BBC chief sports writer Tom Fordyce said there was “so little between the two players that only a feather could come between them” at times. Quite a compliment, given that this was the sixth Grand Slam Djokovic has picked up in five years.

As former British number one John Lloyd said: “If Murray had found a way to get the second set, we might have been saying something different.”

Indeed we might, for after two successive tie breaks one man was rejuvenated and emerged with vigour and aggression, while the other looked rather more tired. Sadly, unlike the semi-final, Murray was the latter figure.

Super-Serb | Novak Djokovic holds the Australian Open trophy aloft after winning the tournament for the third year in a row. (Image | SGV Tribune)

Super Serb | Novak Djokovic holds the Australian Open trophy aloft after winning the tournament for the third year in a row. (Image | SGV Tribune)

Djokovic upped his game to such an extent that Murray, having been dealt the hammer blow of losing the second tie-break, could not cope.

Furthermore, the former is a four-time winner in Australia, and this was his third tournament victory in a row. He is quite good there, to say the least.

Murray is now playing at such a level that appearances in Grand Slam finals are beginning to become the minimum standard, both for himself and the very demanding British public.

On this occasion, Djokovic was superior, but this will not be the last time Murray takes on one of the world’s greatest players in a showpiece match in 2013.

He may have started off with a crushing defeat, but Murray will be back, and back holding a Grand Slam trophy at some point over the next 11 months.

In the words of Mr Holt: “If you think, after all the advances Murray has made, that becoming the best player in the world is beyond him, you are deluding yourself.”

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