This year’s Australian Open final is a familiar one. For the fourth time in the past six years, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will face off for the championship in Melbourne. It is no surprise that Djokovic is in the final for a sixth time, but Murray’s spot in the final was a little more unlikely. With constant questions about his (very) pregnant wife at home, and the scary collapse of his father-in-law in the stands during the first week, Murray has considered pulling out of the tournament several times. He says this stress is the cause for some of the behavior he has exhibited on-court that he is “not very proud of.” But, nonetheless, he has risen to the occasion in each of his matches thus far, playing his best tennis when it counts. Now, the games two best movers and returners will face off in what is sure to be a grueling, physical battle.
Murray’s road to the final
Murray has done an excellent job of not letting his distractions at home affect him on court. He breezed through his first two rounds with ease, and only dropped one set in the 3rd and 4th rounds. His first test came in the quarters, where he faced off against the always challenging David Ferrer. Ferrer never gives up, but was simply outmatched by Murray, and Murray took the match in 4 sets. In the semifinals he came up against Milos Raonic, playing the best tennis of his life, and who Murray was tied at 3-3 with in the head-to-head. The semifinal didn’t disappoint as it went the distance, with Raonic taking a 2-1 set lead before Murray began playing the tennis he has been known for, embodied by long, physical points. He was too much for the young Canadian in the end.
Djokovic’s road to the final
After dismantling Rafa in the final in Doha just weeks ago, losing only 3 games, it was clear that there would be no hangover from Djokovic’s historic 2015. Most expected him to roll through the tournament, but it has not been as easy as most would have thought. He was stressed by qualifier Quentin Halys and Andreas Seppi in third set tiebreaks in the first two rounds, and struggled mightily agains Gilles Simon in the Round of 16, committing 100 unforced errors. But, as he so regularly does, he has improved as the tournament wore on, playing cleaner tennis against the stronger opponents. He dispatched Kei Nishikori in 3 relatively straightforward sets in the quarters, and beat Federer in the semis, saying that the first two sets (in which he lost 3 games total and took just over an hour) were the best sets of tennis he has ever played against Roger. One thing is for sure, Murray has his work cut out for him in the final.
This may be one of the most entertaining matchups in the history of professional tennis. Both Djokovic and Murray possess incredible, devastatingly efficient all-court games. They can both seemingly play forever, turning remarkable defense into offense in the blink of an eye. They can be as effective counter-punching as they can being the aggressor, and never count themselves out no matter the score or the situation. Their matches are typically characterized by long, grueling rallies, and a tug-of-war of momentum. Unfortunately for Murray, their epic battles have rarely gone in his favor of late. It will be their 31st meeting, and Djokovic holds a significant edge, leading 21-9. He has also won ten of the last eleven meetings. Murray has, however, defeated Djokovic in a slam final, beating him at Wimbledon in 2013, so he will need to draw from those positive memories to have any chance.
As well as Murray is playing at the moment, especially with his distractions at home, this may be too tall a task. Novak has continued his remarkable play from 2015, and seems hungrier than ever to add to his Slam total. Expect the match to be competitive throughout, especially in the early going, but watch for Djokovic to pull away after a very tight first two sets.
Djokovic wins: 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-4, 6-3