(January 25, 2013) -- They are only seven days apart in age, and there isn’t a whole heck of a lot between them on the tennis court, either.
When Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray -- the current poster boys for a brash, brave style of physically demanding tennis -- meet in Sunday's Australian Open final, the only easy prediction to make is that there will be pain.
Beyond that, prognostications become more difficult.
Djokovic is the reigning champion in Australia, and he's bidding to become the first player in Open Era history to win three consecutive titles Down Under on Sunday. The superbly fit Serb has been his usual awe inspiring self in Melbourne, but his five-set, five-plus hour encounter with Stan Wawrinka has reinforced the notion that he can be beaten.
Enter Andy Murray. Coming of age in the last six whirlwind months that saw him parlay Olympic gold into his first Grand Slam title, the wildly talented Scot has added a daunting touch of power to his already sublime and superbly crafty game. Murray is attacking like he never has before, belting big serves in the low 130's, cleaning up those short returns with astonishingly powerful winners, and not being shy about imposing himself on all comers.
If there's anybody who can beat Djokovic in his current form, it is Murray.
Murray did just that last September when he handed the Serb a five-set defeat in the U.S. Open final. But Djokovic, bidding for his sixth career Grand Slam and fourth Australian Open title, will be eager to settle the score. If his straight-sets thrashing of David Ferrer in the semifinals is any indication, he’ll be revved up and ready to go for the Murray challenge.
What Djokovic must do to win:
Already the master of tennis macabre (see last year’s five-hour, fifty-three minute final with Nadal if you want to know what the intersection of tennis and torture looks like) Djokovic must entice Murray to enter his torture chamber of lung-searing, leg-sapping rallies to gain the edge. As fit as Murray is -- and he proved that is his remarkably fit last night in his four-hour triumph over Roger Federer -- there is simply nobody in tennis with the regenerative powers of Novak Djokovic. The Serb is lighter, more flexible and less prone to injury than Murray, and the longer he can keep Murray in his warped world of mind-bending defense and counterpunching brilliance, the better chance he'll have of ending the Scot's 13-match Grand Slam unbeaten streak.
What Murray must do to win:
Go big. How do you keep the world’s best returner at bay? With a big, bristling serve that generates free points and plenty of short balls to hammer away on. It certainly won’t be easy for Murray, but if he can manage the type of serving performance that he put forth against Roger Federer in the semifinal, where out-aced Federer 21 to 5 and didn’t surrender a break of serve until the fourth set, he’ll be well on his way to giving Djokovic a run for his money.
The fact that Murray spent four hours on court in his semifinal, and that he’ll have a day less rest than Djokovic, makes Murray’s ability to impose himself early and often in points against Djokovic even more imperative. He’s seen the type of tennis that Djokovic is capable of in five-plus hour matches in Australia (Djokovic has won two of the longest matches in Australian Open history), so he’d be well suited to do everything in his power to avoid going there.
In the last five Australian Open finals, the player with a day less rest has won four of five finals against the player with an extra day of rest.... Djokovic owns a 10-7 career record against Murray, and he’s won their last two matches...Murray’s lone Grand Slam title came against Djokovic in the 2012 U.S. Open final, but he’s 1-2 career against Djokovic in Grand Slams, including last year’s five-set semifinal... Murray has opened the year with ten straight wins; Djokovic is 6-0 for 2013... Djokovic is bidding to become the third player to win four Australian Open titles in the Open Era. Federer and Agassi are the other two... Djokovic will retain the No. 1 ranking and Murray will retain the No. 3 ranking, regardless of what happens in the final... Murray is 4-3 vs. Djokovic in finals... Murray has 71 aces for the tournament, Djokovic has 46...
“I hope it’s a painful match, that means it will be a good one.” -- Andy Murray discussing the possibility of an extremely physical match with Djokovic.
"This two day break definitely serves me well, physically, mentally, emotionally so I can get all my strength for that final." -- Novak Djokovic on having an extra day of rest before the final.
Pick: Djokovic in four
(Photo Credit: Mark Peterson/ Corleve)