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Home comforts can soothe tearful Andy after Oz agony

By Paul Newman

Andy Murray headed for the airport to catch a flight home after the most challenging Grand Slam tournament of his life ended in what has become all too familiar disappointment at the Australian Open.

In losing 6-1 7-5 7-6 to Novak Djokovic, who underlined his continuing domination of the sport by winning the title for the sixth time in nine years, Murray became only the second man in the Open era to lose five finals at the same Slam event. He shares the record with Ivan Lendl, who lost five US Open finals.

However, the Scot's former coach did also win the title three times in New York, whereas Murray has yet to taste victory here.

Defeat on the last day of a tournament always hurts, but Murray can feel proud of his achievement in reaching the final, given what he has had to contend with.

Murray's wife, Kim, whom he has not seen for five weeks, is due to give birth later this month. He also had to deal with the trauma of his father-in-law, Nigel Sears, collapsing during a match in the middle of the tournament.

Tears welled up in Murray's eyes at the presentation ceremony as he thanked his wife.

"You've been a legend the last few weeks," he said. "Thanks for your support. I'll be on the next flight home."

At his post-match press conference, Murray added: "Regardless of the result, it's been hard. Had I lost in the third or fourth round it still would have been difficult with everything.

"Kim's been amazing. She's handled everything unbelievably well. I have to thank her for allowing me to play, but it was tough.

"I'm proud that I got into this position. I'm looking forward to getting home now."

Murray hinted that the off-court dramas had affected his play.

"A lot's been going on," he said. "I started the last couple of matches quite slowly, I think, understandable in some respects. It's not good to begin matches like that against someone like Novak."

The slow start saw Murray trail 5-0 after just 19 minutes.

Djokovic was immediately into his rhythm, while Murray did not get going until the penultimate game of the first set.

Nevertheless, the second and third sets produced the sort of tennis we have grown accustomed to seeing from these two great rivals: pulsating rallies, great athleticism and games decided by the tiniest of margins.

Murray recovered an early break in the second set and appeared in little danger when he served at 5-5 and 40-0, but Djokovic then broke serve by playing five points in a row which were close to perfection.

At 40-30 they played a wonderful 35-shot rally which ended with Murray putting a backhand wide. The point summed up the match, with Djokovic relentless in his accuracy and finally grinding down his opponent.

The third set went to a tie-break after Murray again retrieved an early break of serve, but the Scot never recovered after making two double faults in the first five points.

"In the first set I wasn't there, but the second and third sets I do think were very close," Murray said.

"I could have played a bit better. I didn't think I hit my forehand as well as I could have. When I did in the third set, that helped me out a lot."

This was Djokovic's 11th win in the 12 matches he has played against Murray since the Serb lost their 2013 Wimbledon final.

It was also the fifth time in the last six years that he has beaten the Scot here, four of those having come in finals.

The 'Big Four' - Djokovic, Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal - is rapidly becoming the Gang of One. This was Djokovic's 17th win in his last 18 matches against top 10 opponents. Murray, in contrast, has lost 12 of his last 13 matches against players ranked No.1 in the world. Cruelly, the Scot will drop one place to No.3 behind Federer in today's world rankings.

Djokovic's 11th Grand Slam title ties him with Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver and leaves just four players ahead of him on the all-time list: Federer with 17 titles, Nadal and Pete Sampras with 14 and Roy Emerson with 12.

The World No.1, who has now won seven tournaments in a row dating back to last summer's US Open, has won four of the last five Grand Slams. He has won every final he has contested here at Melbourne Park and has equalled Emerson's record of Australian Open titles.

"I started very well," Djokovic said. "I was very aggressive and executed the game plan perfectly. I felt he was pretty neutral from the back of the court and was allowing me to take control over the rallies. I had more time.

"Then he started serving better. He came back. The second set was decided in a few points, as was the third. Credit to him for fighting and showing why he's one of the best in the world.

"He made me work. There were a lot of long rallies. We were both breathing heavily in the second and third set. But that's what you expect."

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