Andy Murray has an uncanny memory for some of the most minute details of his matches and the Scot is likely to remember two moments from his Australian Open final here last night long after his 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-2 defeat to Novak Djokovic becomes just another line in the record books.
The first came early in the second set, Murray having taken the first. He had come out with renewed aggression and gone 0-40 up on Djokovic's serve in the second game. At 15-40, however, he hit a backhand wide and long when he had the court at his mercy.
Djokovic, who went on to hold serve and take a set in which Murray made most of the running, admitted afterwards that it had been a turning-point. "I needed to hang in there," he said. "After that I felt just mentally a little bit lighter and more confident on the court than I had done in the first hour or so."
Ivan Lendl, Murray's coach, agreed that it had been a key moment. "When you have opportunities against top players, it's advisable to take advantage of it because they're not going to give you more over and over," he said. "If you play someone who is a little weaker in the rankings, you may get another opportunity. With the top players you very rarely do."
The second watershed came in the tie-break at the end of the second set. Murray, having missed his first serve at 2-2, saw a white feather floating across the court as he was about to hit his second and aborted his action. A double-fault ensued and Murray went on to lose the tie-break 7-3. Matches can be won and lost in such moments and with Murray's blistered foot causing him increasing pain, the loss of the second set was crucial.
Although the match was tight until the end of the third set, in terms of entertainment it fell considerably short of what the two men had provided in their semi-final here last year and in last summer's US Open final. With both men pounding the ball from the baseline, many of the rallies followed a similar pattern, though few were of the length or intensity that has been a feature of their matches in the past.
Their meetings in Melbourne and New York last year had produced a total of 35 breaks of serve – evidence that they are the two best returners in the sport – but on this occasion the first break did not come until there was nearly three hours on the clock, both men having served exceptionally well.
After Djokovic had broken to lead 5-3 in the third set, however, the end was comparatively swift, the Serb winning nine of the last 11 games.
The conditions could not have been better, the match having started in warm sunshine at the end of a beautiful day. There was a light breeze blowing from one end, but it was nothing like the stiff wind that the two men had had to deal with in the US Open final. Support inside Rod Laver Arena was divided. Djokovic, given his past successes here, is a big favourite, but Murray is very popular too.
The first two sets were mirror images. Djokovic, aggressive from the start, was the better player in the first as Murray played within himself. The Scot, however, played a near-perfect tie-break, taking it 7-2 after winning the first four points. In the second set it was Murray who set the pace, but after the Scot had failed to take his chance in the second game Djokovic's confidence grew.
The first two sets had lasted two and a quarter hours, but the third took just 41 minutes. When Murray served at 3-4 he went 0-40 down, saved the first two break points but then put a forehand into the net.
Although Djokovic ran away with the fourth set, it was still a match decided by tiny margins, the Serb winning a total of 139 points compared with Murray's 126. None, however, was more important than that missed backhand by Murray early in the second set.