By Greg Stutchbury
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The battle to stay at the top of men’s tennis is like a fight to keep hungry wolves at bay, Novak Djokovic said on Sunday after clinching a record-equalling sixth Australian Open title with a 6-1 7-5 7-6(3) victory over Andy Murray.
The 28-year-old world number one is currently dominating the men’s game like Roger Federer did a decade ago, but he is keen to ensure that he stays ahead of a ferocious chasing pack that includes the vanquished Murray.
“I heard a nice metaphor yesterday about the wolf running up the hill being much hungrier than the wolf standing on top of the hill,” he told reporters.
“I believe that all the guys that are out there fighting each week to get to number one are very hungry to get to number one and I know that…
“I think you need to work twice as hard when you’re up there.”
There is no doubt that on present form Djokovic is still safely ahead of his rivals.
After appearing in all four grand slam finals last year and winning three, the Serb was a heavy favourite before the tournament began to join Roy Emerson as a six-time winner in Australia.
After being pushed to five sets by Gilles Simon in the fourth round, he ramped up his performance-level in the second week, ending Federer’s tournament with a stunning attack in the opening two sets of their semi-final.
He was just as imperious in the opening set against Murray, racing through it in 28 minutes before the Scot settled into a rhythm and pushed him hard for the last two sets.
Yet it was essentially Djokovic’s ability to seize his own opportunities and end Murray’s momentum that clinched the contest and allowed him to celebrate by kissing the blue hard court on Rod Laver Arena for a sixth time.
“He definitely made me work, there were a lot of long rallies, long exchanges and we were both breathing heavily towards the end of the second and third sets,” he said.
Djokovic said he had been spurred on by the opportunity to match Emerson’s mark and draw level with Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg on 11 grand slams.
“I can’t lie and say I didn’t think about it,” he said. “Of course it was at the back of my mind. It served as a great motivation and I tried to use it as a positive.”
The Serb, who has appeared in the last five grand slam finals, winning four, acknowledged he is playing at a different level to his rivals but is keen not to rest on his laurels.
“I believe that I can win every match I play (and) I’m playing the tennis of my life in the last 15 months. The results are showing that,” he said.
“But you can get a very big slap from karma. I don’t want that.”
(Editing by Toby Davis)