Tramlines

Improvement fails to reap rewards for Murray

Tramlines

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New year, same end result for poor old Andy Murray.

The wait for a Grand Slam title goes on for Britain's number one after an epic struggle with Novak Djokovic that ebbed and flowed over five thrilling sets ended with that familiar feeling of disappointment for Murray.

He gave his all for nearly five hours but ultimately he was made to rue a disastrous fourth set as Djokovic raced away in the fifth and, despite a miraculous recovery from Murray at 5-2 down to push the match right to the death, the Serb closed out the match to book a mouth-watering date with Rafael Nadal on Sunday.

Yet it was not all doom and gloom for Murray. The Scot, while admitting he was bitterly disappointed, was rightly upbeat after the match, given the encouraging performance he had put in. "Proud," he said.

Djokovic, let's not forget, is still world number one and a player who is showing no signs of letting up the blistering pace he set in his record-breaking 2011. This is also the same man who Murray failed to take a single set off in last year's final in Melbourne, at the start of that incredible run.

These raw statistics tell a story. He may not have been able to topple Djokovic this time, but he certainly pushed him close, something he was unable to do just under 12 months ago.

His collaboration with Ivan Lendl is clearly already reaping rewards; certainly he is being more aggressive in his play and it was when he was employing that new approach tonight that he troubled Djokovic most.

Also, it appears that Murray is benefiting from having a true 'boss' in his camp. Murray, now he's been put in his place, responds with respect, something which came out in his press conference after the match when he again spoke glowingly about his coach.

Of course, there is still plenty of work to do - his performance in that fourth set, for a start. If there wasn't, he'd be facing Rafa as the hot favourite to lift the title on Sunday.

But with not even a month under their belt working together as player and coach, there is plenty of time to make further improvements.

Murray might not have reached the final this time around, but he is a better player now than a year ago. He has more weapons in his armoury and he is both physically and mentally stronger.

Lendl can take some of the credit for that, and the fact that Murray has already responded so well to his coaching indicates that he will only get better during the course of this season - and beyond.

Murray must only hope that Djokovic dips at some stage and comes to meet him halfway - or at least level off his form curve - to facilitate any future elevation towards even higher echelons of the rankings.

Yet Nole does not appear to be done just yet. Even with his breathing difficulties - which we will undoubtedly hear more of once the tournament is finished - he still managed to first dispose of a dogged David Ferrer in straight sets and then hold off the charge of Murray to reach the final.

The man is a phenomenon. To have continued where he left off after such an incredible season is nothing short of astounding and while we all wait for a crash, he just keeps motoring on.

Whether he can jump the final hurdle and become just the fifth man to claim three straight Grand Slam crowns remains to be seen, but if he can, you could say: new year, same end result for Novak Djokovic.

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Despite the scintillating action taking place on Rod Laver Arena, there was still plenty of focus on the crowd, with the likes of Djokovic's girlfriend Jelena Ristic (below, with friend) and former LA Lakers legend Vlade Divac popular subject matter for the television cameras in the Serbian corner.

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In Murray's box, as has become par for the course since he began coaching the Scot, Ivan Lendl and his trademark deadpan glare were popular with snappers, as was Kim Sears, Murray's long-term girlfriend.

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And whilst we're on the theme of the player's box, here are five of the most loyal wives, girlfriends, husbands and boyfriends we've seen at this year's tournament at Melbourne Park. In no particular order and just for fun...

Bernard Tomic's girlfriend Donay Meijer, whose rise to fame has been almost as quick as her man's.

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Adam Scott, Ana Ivanovic's other half, who travelled from his golf commitments to support her.

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Mirka Federer, as cool and collected as Roger, as usual. But why didn't she get a hat?

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Old favourite Bec Cartwright, Lleyton Hewitt's wife.

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And Li Na's quirky husband Jiang Shan, whose relationship with his wife is often there for all to see.

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AUSTRALIA'S SHAME PART TWO: After Prime Minister Julia Gillard was roughed up on Australia Day, prompting plenty of 'shame' headlines in the Aussie press today, she probably thought it was safe to make a public appearance at Rod Laver Arena. Not so. When her image came up on the big screen, the premier was booed, prompting the director to quickly cut back to pictures of 'normal' fans.

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SHOT OF THE DAY: A monstrous Air Jordan-like smash from Murray in the sixth game of the third set that seemed to invigorate him and send out a message of intent to Djokovic. He went on to take the set.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Well I'm not deaf. Of course I hear her. I'm sure she hears me. And about 15,000 people hear us maybe even further away." Victoria Azarenka gets a little feisty when questioned yet again about her and Maria Sharapova's serial grunting.

LOOKING AHEAD: It's women's final day at Melbourne Park and it's going to be a cracker, if you can bear the noise that will be produced down on Rod Laver. Sharapova goes head to head with  Azarenka in a battle of the shriekers, but also probably the two best players in the world at the moment. Just remember your ear plugs.

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