His voice cracking as he delivered his victory speech, an emotional Andy Murray dedicated his Brisbane International title to a sick friend.
Murray kicked off 2013 with a successful defence of his Brisbane title, holding off the up-and-coming Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (0), 6-4 on Sunday.
"I'd like to dedicate this victory to one of my best friends," Murray said, moments after it seemed he'd finished his thank you list. "Thank you very much. He's back home watching and, you're going to get through."
He signed what appeared to say "For You Perched" on a small plaque after the match, but wouldn't disclose the identity of his friend.
Murray began his breakthrough season in 2012 by winning in Brisbane and followed that up later with career-changing titles at the London Olympics and U.S. Open.
He heads into the Australian Open, starting Jan. 14, as the reigning major champion and without the enormous pressure that followed him on every previous trip to Australia. Now that he has ended the 76-year drought for British men at the majors, he doesn't have to answer those questions.
The 25-year-old Scot started slowly Sunday and had to recover breaks in both sets, and was happy with the payoff from his concerted efforts to work on playing aggressively.
"I got off to not the best start and he was playing very aggressive, and by the end of the first set I had turned the tables and I was the one make him do a lot of running," he said. "It's a change of mentality really, and that doesn't happen in a few weeks. It's taken time to believe that that's the right thing to do, to be aggressive.
"That at was what I worked on in December, and I worked on it for the majority of last year as well. Did it well today."
The 21-year-old Dimitrov raced to a 4-1 lead in his first ATP World Tour final, stunning Murray with some impressive single-handed backhands, but lost his nerve and was broken when serving for the set at 5-3. After getting back on serve, No. 3-ranked Murray saved a set-point with an ace and forced a tiebreaker, which he dominated.
In the second, Murray drilled a backhand into the net to give up a service break and a 4-3 lead to Dimitrov, and chastised himself as he sat in his chair at the changeover, yelling: "legs,legs,legs,legs,legs."
He raised his game immediately to break back in a three-game roll, getting quick points from a backhand passing shot and a stunning return to set up a breakpoint and a backhand winner down the line to level.
Murray held at love for a 5-4 lead in a service game that lasted 56 seconds and then broke Dimitrov again to finish it off in 1 ½ hours.
"I was up a break and I was actually not playing bad tennis at all I thought," the No. 48-ranked Dimitrov said. "He's one of the best returners in the game by far. He picked up couple of my serves on big points, so that gave him extra confidence. Then he stepped up with his serve.
"He's a top guy, so he has his rhythm, his routine on court. When he has to play good, he plays good. So I didn't feel that I was far from winning the set or even the match, but still that was a little margin that he got covered."
Dimitrov beat No. 2-seeded Milos Raonic, the big-serving Canadian, No. 7 Jurgen Melzer and 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis en route to his first career final.
And Murray thinks Dimitrov, who has been compared with 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer as a younger player, could be on the verge of bigger things.
"It's his first final. Everyone will agree he played some extremely exciting tennis, it was a very tough match," Murray said. "He's just changed coaches, started with a new team, so congratulations to them — I'm sure they're going to do great things together."
Murray made a shaky start to the tournament, dropping a set in his first match against No. 199-ranked Australian qualifier John Millman, but the Scot gradually picked up momentum in wins over Denis Istomin and — after falling behind a break in the first set — was leading fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori 6-4, 2-0 when the Japanese player withdrew from their semifinal with an injured left knee.
Murray made back-to-back finals at the Australian Open in 2010 and 2011, then lost in the semifinals last year to eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
In all, he lost four finals at Grand Slam events before his breakthrough at the U.S. Open. Now that he has crossed the hurdle, he's in a much stronger position to add more majors.
"I hope that the Australian Open goes a bit better for me than it did last year," he said. "I played some very good tennis there. I lost a set in the first round, and then won the next four matches in straight sets, until the match with Novak which I played very well. So I hope I can start the year well."