Sunday, February 1, 2015

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Comment - Odds in Djokovic's favour but Murray is poised for an upset


Novak Djokovic’s record in Australia speaks for itself. The world No1 is bidding for a 50th match win in Melbourne on Sunday.

Only two players in the Open Era have recorded more victories here – Roger Federer who has 75 and Stefan Edberg who has 56.

The Serb’s 4-0 record in finals in Melbourne is testament to how invincible he feels when he steps on Rod Laver Arena and the fact that he has beaten Andy Murray all three times they’ve played here definitely piles the odds in Djokovic’s favour heading into today’s final with the Scot.

But watching Murray over the past two weeks, one can’t help but picture a race horse coming from behind, getting ready to overtake everyone ahead of it for the win.

He refuses to use the word vindication when describing the success he’s enjoying at the moment with his coach Amelie Mauresmo, but Murray is certainly playing like he’s seeking it.

He looks like a player trying to prove a point and he has clearly put in the hard yards during the offseason with the sole aim of getting back to his best.

Like he pointed out yesterday, with one good tournament Murray has already re-entered the top-four in the world rankings and a win today would place him at No3 ahead of Rafael Nadal.

He’s also peaking at the right time this fortnight. Unlike Djokovic, whose form deserted him in his sloppy semi-final win over Stan Wawrinka, Murray had to bring out his very best to outclass Tomas Berdych in his last four test.

It is unfortunate that his rhythm got interrupted by having two days off between the semi and the final, unlike Djokovic who played his semi-final on Friday. You would assume that the player with the extra day would have an advantage going into the final, but surprisingly, for four of the past seven years, the person playing the second semi is the one who has run away with the trophy.

Another stat in Djokovic’s favour? The Serb is on a nine-match winning streak against top-10 opponents.

While he can gain confidence from knowing he beat Murray in all four matches they played in 2014, Djokovic is yet to face this new Andy Murray of 2015.

We have grown accustomed to the kind of tennis produced in a Djokovic-Murray match. It’s a gruelling physical battle from the baseline between two players who sport similar game, but in truth, both Djokovic and Murray have been improving their game. Djokovic has been serving better than we’ve ever seen him this tournament while Murray has been more aggressive and stepping inside the court more.

We will still witness long rallies from the back today, but something tells me there will be more to this match than baseline exchanges.

Just like we’ve seen the Boris Becker effect in Djokovic’s serve, we should expect to see Mauresmo’s variety creep into Murray’s tactics.

Perhaps the biggest blessing from the arrival of all these “super coaches” is that they might just save us from the mundane endless rallies that have dominated many of the top action in recent years by helping their players add more elements to their style.

Sunday’s match can give us an idea if that is true.

Verdict
The numbers are heavily in Djokovic’s favour and it’s doubtful he’ll play as badly as he did against Wawrinka in the semis but Murray might just have a bit of extra motivation to take this one. The Scot is very smart tactically, and if he manages to execute the plan he drew up with Mauresmo properly, he could capture his third grand slam trophy. We say Murray in four.

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