Novak Djokovic crushed Andy Murray in the final stages to claim the Australian Open men’s singles title 7-6 6-7 6-3 6-0.
Murray had seemed on the front foot as he won the second set to level the match, then broke early in the third set to lead 2-0.
But Djokovic then won 12 of the next 13 games to enjoy an extraordinary victory – and consign Murray to a fourth defeat in the final in Melbourne.
The Serbian superstar, by contrast, has a perfect five-out-of-five record in Australian Open finals – and fully justified his world number one status as he roared away with the match.
The winner was delighted to have claimed his fifth crown.
“It’s been a record-breaking year. It’s one of the most remarkable sports events in the world,” he said.
The Serb also spared a thought for his opponent at the end of the match – and turned things personal by saing, “I want to congratulate Andy for a great tournament. And congratulations to you and Kim on your engagement… I wish you many kids!”
Murray kept calm in his speech, thanking the fans and his team behind the scenes: “Unfortunately we couldn’t get it but I’m a little bit closer than I was a few months ago.”
Djokovic got tongues wagging at the key moment of the match as he appeared injured at the start of the third set, hobbling slightly between points.
But as so often in the past Djokovic’s mystery injury disappeared as quickly as it had appeared – prompting Murray to shout out “he ALWAYS does it” – and as he produced a string of brilliant winners, Murray’s touch deserted him completely.
The cursory handshake between the two men at the end between two players who used to be firm friends said it all – Murray was clearly unimpressed at how the world number one’s antics had unsettled him at a critical moment.
But the Scot can have few complaints: he allowed his opponent to get under his skin, and after playing an exemplary tournament finally lost his head when it mattered most. In this most gladiatorial of sports, Murray was ultimately beaten by a player who proved himself both physically and mentally superior.
From the start the match had swung back and forth. Murray forced Djokovic to a first-set tie-break after the world number one had been 4-1 up. A brilliant passing shot from the Brit had knocked Djokovic off his balance in a fall that injured his hand and affected his ability to grip the racquet and generate power in his shots.
However, sheer doggedness took Djokovic through the breaker despite him opening up with a double-fault.
But it was Murray who took the second set – in another tie-break, powering through and forcing his opponent into mistakes. He had started the set the better, breaking Djokovic early on, and battled his way through to square things off after a mammoth and intense two and a half hours of tennis.
Murray looked like pushing on as he broke at the start of the third set to lost 2-0 – with Djokovic, seemingly injured, unable to do anything.
Yet from nowhere Djokovic turned it round, breaking back immediately and then breaking again to take charge of the set.
Thereafter Djokovic moved into cruise control, taking the third set 6-3, during which Murray was greatly disgruntled at various points, angry with what he saw as feigned injury from his opponent, who seemed to be stumbling across court at times as well as suffering from cramp.
And Murray had no answer in the fourth and final set in which he was comprehensively bagelled, having no response at all to a psychological and physical battle.
The match was briefly interrupted by protestors on the court, dealt with swiftly by security.