The task of beating the best player in history in a Grand Slam final proved beyond Andy Murray here yesterday, but the 22-year-old Scot gave a display of which he could be proud. Roger Federer, having won their Australian Open final 6-3, 6-4, 7-6, said that Murray had made him produce "one of my finest performances in a long time or maybe for ever". It was a thrilling match, full of tennis of the highest quality, and the emotion of the occasion got to Murray.
At the presentation ceremony, in which Federer had wept uncontrollably after losing to Rafael Nadal in the final 12 months ago, Murray (below) broke down as he thanked his supporters back home for their backing over the last fortnight.
"I'm sorry I couldn't do it for you," Murray said. Choking back the tears, he added: "I can cry like Roger, it's just a shame I can't play like him. I'm done. Sorry." Murray also lost in straight sets to Federer in his only previous Grand Slam final, at the 2008 US Open, but this was a very different match and one that should give the Scot great encouragement.
Murray had his chances to win the first set, played poorly at the start of the second, upped his level thereafter and should have won the third. He led 5-2 and had five set points in a wonderful tie-break, which Federer won 13-11.
"I had three chances to go up a break at 2-2 in the first set," Murray said. "He started to play a lot better after that. He deserved to win the second set for sure. In the third set I thought I had more of the chances. I thought I deserved to take it into a fourth, but it didn't happen."
Murray, who was aiming to end Britain's 74-year wait for a men's singles Grand Slam title, added: "I'm hungry to win a Grand Slam. I have been since I was 16 or 17 years old, when I started playing the junior Grand Slams. I've worked really, really hard to try to do it and give myself the opportunity. So far it's not been good enough, but I'm sure one day it will be. When it comes, maybe because of the two losses, it will be even better.
"I'm getting closer and playing better. To have the opportunity to play in these tournaments, in these matches, is pretty incredible in the grand scheme of things. I'm not going to be too disappointed. I've got a pretty good life. I've got a long career ahead of me and I'm going to have more opportunities to win them."
Murray had beaten Federer in six of their previous 10 meetings, but he said the Swiss always upped his game in Grand Slam tournaments. "I think his level is a lot more consistent in the Slams," Murray said. "He makes fewer unforced errors than he does the rest of the year. Maybe in the other tournaments he tries a few more things out.
"But the shots that he hits great – they're still great all year round. He puts a lot of pressure on you with the way that he plays. You need to focus really hard throughout the match."
Federer, who is the first father to win a Grand Slam singles title since Andre Agassi in 2003, said he had played "some of the best tennis of my life these last two weeks". This was his 16th Grand Slam title – he has played in 22 finals – and once again he holds three of the four major crowns.
The world No 1 said Murray was "too good not to a win a Grand Slam". He added: "He's a wonderful mover and tactician and has a great backhand. He's got everything you need to beat the best and to win big tournaments. Sometimes it just doesn't happen when you want it to. Sometimes it happens all of a sudden without you knowing it.
"He's going through a tough generation. I've dominated hard courts and grass for a long time. Rafa dominated on clay and also became very strong on the other surfaces. Winning Grand Slams isn't an easy thing to do and I proved it again tonight. But I think he's extremely strong in his mind and I just feel like he's got the game to do it."
There are consolations for Murray. He will rise to No 3 in today's world ranking list – Novak Djokovic is at No 2 while Nadal falls out of the top three for the first time in five years to No 4 – and takes home a cheque for £581,000.