Has the "big two" become the "big three"?
With a sublime performance in the Australian Open final, Novak Djokovic joined Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as the only top-ranked male players with multiple majors. The 23-year-old Serb cruised past Andy Murray, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 on Sunday night in Melbourne with a deft display of shot-making, a dominating defensive performance and a blend of patience and guts that took him to another straight-set victory over a top opponent. In doing so, Djokovic establishes himself as perhaps the premier hard-court player in the game.
For as good as Djokovic was in the final (he was much better against Federer three days earlier), his counterpart, Murray, was just as disappointing. With the hopes of Great Britain on his shoulders, the Scotsman crumbled under the pressure of a Grand Slam final yet again. It's one thing to lose, and to get worked by Roger Federer twice in a Slam final, but to lose in such a decisive fashion to his contemporary, Djokovic, on a favorable court in a major far, far away from London is a whole other.
That's not to take anything away from Djokovic. With the way he was playing, Murray would have had a tough time winning even if he brought his "A" game. He barely put up a fight, though. Once Nole broke to start the second set, all you had to do was look at Murray's body language to figure out that he wasn't much longer for the match.
Murray isn't going anywhere. He has far too much talent for that. But any lingering doubts he had about his ability to compete under pressure were exacerbated Sunday in Melbourne. He's a different player when the glare of the spotlight shines directly on him. Before, he could delude himself into thinking that it was his inexperience in Slams or his legendary opponent. Neither of those excuses work anymore.
All isn't lost, though. A few years back another player was routinely knocked for not showing up on the biggest stage. Four Grand Slams later, Kim Clijsters is doing pretty good for herself.