Novak Djokovic was tremendous on Sunday night. But Andy Murray was awful, and so was the highly anticipated men's final.
After a masterful performance in Melbourne -- one that featured straight-set wins over Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer, and Andy Murray -- we can now officially say that not only is Novak Djokovic (finally!) back to being the player he was at the end of the 2007 and in the beginning of 2008, when he won his maiden Grand Slam title, we can also so that he is most definitely and assertively better than he was before.
Djokovic has been riding the roller coaster for three full years now, and only now is he again displaying a level of consistency and maturity to match his unyielding athleticism. Over these last three years it has been painful at times to watch Djokovic, knowing full well that he had the game to beat the best, yet also knowing full well that he seemed destined to find a way to fall short, to sabotage his best intentions with a heat-related malady, or an uninspired performance when he needed precisely the opposite.
But a major growth spurt has occurred over the last six months, not just in the game of the wildly talented acrobatic Serbian, but probably more so in the spirit.
Perhaps it was the way he was received in New York, when he vanquished Federer in the semis of the 2010 U.S. Open and once again was the only player in the draw who could truly push Nadal in a way that forced him to bring out an extra gear.
Perhaps it was the camaraderie and the infectious joy of his merry band of Serbian brothers as they captured the Davis Cup from France in Belgrade, manifesting itself in his play.
In reality, it was probably all of the above, and a bit more. The 23-year-old has come a long way since his irreverent late teens and early 20's, when it was him and his family against the world. He had a serious chip on his shoulder in those days, and many of us feared that he'd never reach the same level of all-court dominance without that chip.
But Sunday, against a befuddled Andy Murray, he did all that and more.
Djokovic, who has long possessed one of the most sublime court presences in the sport, was passionate from the first ball Sunday evening until long after he threw his shirt and shoes into the crowd for souvenirs. And when he needed to prove his superiority, he answered the bell by unleashing his heat-seeking forehand or a screaming corner-bound first serve.
It was an uplifting display on all fronts for Djokovic, and with it I do believe he's officially announced himself as a very real threat to claim more Grand Slam crowns and to ascend to No. 1 in the ATP rankings.
For Murray, the prospects appear to be much dimmer. It's not that the Scot has failed in all three of his Grand Slam finals -- it's the way that he has failed. Take nothing away from Djokovic but Murray's performance was shrouded in a black cloud of self doubt, and colored with a morose anxiety-ridden paste.
With the body language of a zombie, Murray moped around between points with the look of a man who'd already been beaten for most of the match. It was so bad that it was hard to focus on just how divine Djokovic was playing, because you could tell that most of his brilliance was completely unnecessary. The Serb had brought all his weapons to a fight in which Murray had brought none.
I'd like to defend Murray here, I really would. Like all true tennis fans, I wanted this Murray-Djokovic final to be a showcase of the talents of both men. The limber and clinical Djokovic, and the cat-and-mouse counter puncher Murray. Sadly, Murray was weighed down by something inexplicably heavy and grey. While Djokovic was at full potential, Murray was somewhere less than half.
There's no way to sugarcoat it, and I do believe that the widely chastised British Press is well within its rights to lambaste Murray.
His was a truly embarrassing performance, given the occasion, given the amount of ability he possesses, and his doleful, borderline psychotic behavior cast a pall over what should have been a joyous match, and a massive coming-out party for Djokovic.
I have long been a Murray supporter, and I thought -- all the way up until the night of the final -- that he was a shoe-in to break the British curse. Moreover, I felt that he deserved to be the guy to do it, because I felt that he was a fighter, and because I liked his unique brand of tennis and the way he seemed to relish the antagonistic elements of tennis warfare.
But having seen his worst last night, I've come to the realization that I'd rather not see this type of performance again in a Grand Slam final.
If this is what we get to replace Federer and Nadal, tennis fans should be concerned.
To his credit, Djokovic was still able to shine. But Murray brought this final way way down. It was hard to watch.
I was thrilled for Djokovic, but I was glad it was over as well.