People believed in Andy Murray yesterday. For the first time in his career, he went into a match against Roger Federer as the bookmaker's favourite. But then Murray is rarely interested in what anybody else thinks. What mattered was that he himself had unshakeable faith, even in the most awkward moments of this magnificent five-setter. His inner resolve was the critical factor as he saw the job through: 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-7, 6-2.
Tomorrow night Murray will play Novak Djokovic in his third Australian Open final.
There were parallels here with the final of the US Open against Djokovic in September. Again Murray made the early pace and found himself pegged back. Again he had to gather himself at the start of the fifth set. And again he did so with such authority that the final half-hour was the least fraught part of the match.
For the great majority of the points, Murray had been the aggressor, the man with the masterplan. If Federer had actually managed to sustain his comeback and claim that deciding set, it would have been one of the great steals in tennis history. Because, as one observer put it, this was a rare example of a five-set thrashing.
Murray hit more aces, more winners and fewer unforced errors. He dictated the pattern of the contest, and Federer only managed to stay in touch through his match-craft and competitive fire - two elements of his game that are vastly under-rated, simply because he makes this sport look so easy.
There was one moment, around the end of the fourth set, when that fire blazed particularly hot. As Murray served for the match at 6-5, he played a phenomenal forehand pass on the first point, and Federer responded with some frustrated - and unprintable - invective, aimed directly at his opponent. It was an unusual instance of sledging on the tennis court, and it seemed to work. Federer went on to break serve and this take the set to a tie-break, which he won 7-2. "He definitely raised his level," Murray said. "In that game I think he hit two balls onto the line and was extremely aggressive after that.
"I didn't play the best tie-breaker. It's hard when you're serving for a place in the final of a slam and you lose it and then a few moments later you're back into a fifth set. But he took a toilet break and I had a bit of time to think. I'd put myself in a winning position and just had to think to myself what I'd done to get there, then make sure I did it at the beginning of the fifth set."
Murray was as good as his word as he came out and rattled off three straight games. He even drove a ball at Federer from short range, in the style of his coach Ivan Lendl, as if to remind him who was in charge here.
This time, he would not relinquish his advantage, landing more than two-thirds of his first serves in that final set to end hopes of a turnaround.
Federer is used to outperforming most of his opponents on serve, but not yesterday, for Murray was doing a passable impression of Pete Sampras. He saved break points with aces and even went for a couple of slam-dunk volleys. The other striking feature was the muscle behind Murray's forehand. It is hard to remember him controlling so many points off that wing - which used to be his chief weakness until Lendl began fine-tuning it - or launching it into the corners with such confidence.
Forehand and forehead. Those have always been the keys to Murray, and Federer noticed a new poise about the way his opponent dealt with the vicissitudes of a draining match.
"After the wins at the Olympics and the US Open, maybe there's just a little bit more belief or he's a bit more calm overall," Federer said. "You want to be excited, but you don't want to go overly crazy, each and every point. So it seems like he has more peace, and in the process he has better results."
Experienced Murray watchers might have picked up on a familiar trope in the third set, when he started grabbing at the top of his hamstring. But that was the only real moment of concern. There was no punching himself in the head, no "why does everything happen to me?" gesturing in the direction of his player's box, and few X-rated outbursts. If the command that he established over -Federer was a surprise, so was the fact that Federer - normally tennis's Mr Clean - was the more sweary on the day.
When his final forehand floated long, it was noticeable that Murray did not celebrate wildly, merely giving a little fist-pump as if he had just seen off the world No?85. He knows this was not a goal in itself, but merely a step toward the greater good of lifting the title. "It was a long, long match," said Murray, as the clock stopped on four hours. "It's a very late finish. I'm tired. I don't want to be wasting any energy. Because I'll need all of it if I want to win against Novak."