MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic gave his old friend Andy Murray a sympathetic hug and a few consoling words, then got on with the real celebrations.
Djokovic walked to the middle of the court, tossed his racket into the crowd, then stripped off his shirt and shoes and hurled them, too.
The 23-year-old Serb had plenty to celebrate after his 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 win over Murray in the Australian Open final on Sunday night. Djokovic's second Australian title made him only the fourth active player on the men's tour to win multiple majors. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have had a lock on the men's side, winning 21 of the previous 23, while Lleyton Hewitt has two titles – the last coming at Wimbledon in 2002.
"It's been a fantastic tournament for me," Djokovic said. "I don't want to fly up to the sky and say, 'I am the best,' or whatever. I cannot compare to Rafa and Roger's success."
He's the most successful player so far in 2011, though, and that's what counts right now.
"Certainly this will give me a lot of motivation for the continuation of the season, because to win a Grand Slam at the start of the season is the best start you can ask for," he said. "It means a world to me. I'm still 23. I still have a lot of time to go."
Top-ranked Nadal came to Australia aiming to win a fourth consecutive major and complete a "Rafa Slam." He lost in the quarterfinals. Federer came in as the defending champion and lost to Djokovic in the semifinals.
The loss for fifth-seeded Murray continued his horrible stretch in Grand Slam finals – he hasn't won a set in three tries, including losses to Federer last year in Australia and at the 2009 U.S. Open. It also extended the long drought for British men at the majors that dates back to Fred Perry's titles in 1936.
Djokovic and Murray have been friends since they started playing each other at age 11 or 12, and often practice against each other. They're even talking about playing doubles together.
"I understand how he feels. It's his third final and he didn't get the title," Djokovic said. "As I said on court, I really have big respect for him and his game, because I think he has everything that it takes to become a Grand Slam champion."
He thinks the pressure on Murray to break the British drought may weigh the Scotsman down.
"It is in some ways a mental issue when you are facing a situation, playing the finals of a Grand Slam, being so close to winning a title," Djokovic said. "Every time you get it there, you know, you want to win it badly, but some things go wrong.
"You're thinking too much. You're worrying too much in your head," he added. "It's a mental battle, definitely. Bottom line is that this is a very mental sport in the end."
That's why he took his time to reflect after winning a 38-hit rally in the 10th game with a brilliant backhand that forced an error to set up set point on Murray's serve. He closed his eyes tightly, clenched his fists and let out a scream of a satisfaction.
"Maybe there was a turning point in the whole match, that 5-4 game," Djokovic said. "I was a bit fortunate, kind of anticipated well and read his intentions and played some great shots and great moments."
The first set had gone with serve until then, and Djokovic stepped up his intensity. That was the second in a seven-game winning sequence for Djokovic that took the match from Murray.
"It is a big advantage mentally when you are a set up and you are getting to the second set and really going for the shots," he said. "So it was great."
Murray started to lose focus as the service breaks tallied against him. He didn't look sharp. He held his back and seemed to limp around, swearing under his breath as his unforced errors mounted and yelling at the people in his players box to keep quiet.
At stages during the second set he repeatedly blinked and rubbed his eyes – maybe he just couldn't believe what he was seeing. Murray said he didn't have any ailments that caused him problems in the match, and just conceded Djokovic was too good.
"I would have liked to have played better. But, you know, I think he would have beaten every other player on the tour if he played like that tonight," Murray said. "He served well. He didn't make many mistakes from the back of the court. He moved really, really well. He hit the ball very clean. That was it."
Murray said he was in a better state of mind after Sunday's loss than he had been last year, when he was comprehensively outplayed by Federer.
"I look at the tournament as a whole, it was excellent," he said. "I don't think anyone would say that reaching a slam final is a bad achievement."
Djokovic said he sorted out some personal issues that were clouding his concentration after some disappointing losses in Melbourne and at the French Open last year, and it paid off with his run to the U.S. Open final – including a semifinal win over Federer.
Now, he's truly on a roll.
"Something switched in my head, because I am very emotional on and off the court," Djokovic said. "The things off court were not working for me, you know? It reflected on my game, on my professional tennis career. But then, you know, I settled some things in my head. It was all on me. I had to try to find the best possible solution and try to get back on the right track."
Sunday started with Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia and Daniel Nestor of Canada winning the mixed double doubles championship, beating Chan Yung-jan of Taiwan and Paul Hanley of Australia 6-3, 3-6, 10-7. The day ended with Djokovic kissing the men's singles trophy and holding it high for hundreds of Serbian fans decked out in red-white-and-blue clothes of all descriptions.
He planned a night of celebrations, something he did long and hard after helping Serbia win its first Davis Cup title at the start of December. Since then, he has knuckled down to work.
"Celebrations are part of the success. I think Davis Cup gave me a strong win in the bag, gave me a lot of confidence, and I was really eager to come back to the court and compete," he said. "I have been more focused and dedicated to the sport than I have ever been before."