Sunday, February 1, 2015

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Murray looking to end losing streak to Djokovic in Melbourne


A little over two months ago, Andy Murray suffered a crushing 6-0, 6-1 defeat to Roger Federer on home soil at the O2 Arena.

It was a loss that, to many, signified how distant the Scot was from the world’s top trio – Novak Djokovic, Federer and Rafael Nadal - and how much work Murray needed to put in, if he wanted to return to his grand slam winning ways.

It’s barely nine weeks later and Murray has pulled off a sensational turnaround, beating two top-10 seeds - Tomas Berdych and Grigor Dimitrov - en route to his fourth Australian Open final – a run that has guaranteed him a return to the top four in the world rankings.

Against Djokovic in the title match on Sunday, Murray will need to execute another turnaround to halt a four-match losing streak to the Serb and reverse his 0-3 record against him at the Australian Open.

The No6 seed is a three-time runner-up at Melbourne Park, and should he overcome Djokovic today, he would be the first man in the Open Era to win the Australian Open title after losing three finals, and would set a record for most appearances - 10 - at the tournament before lifting the trophy.

He is aware that Djokovic is undefeated in four finals Down Under and that he’s standing between the Serb and history, the world No1 bidding to become just the second man to win five or more Australian Open trophies.

I've never won against him here before,” Murray said on Saturday. “I think I've lost to him the last four or five times we played against each other, as well. Maybe only won one set in those matches.

It would be a big turnaround. I played him a couple times very close the end of last year and lost pretty comfortably. For me it would be a big turnaround in a few months if I was able to win. I'm not saying it's not a possibility, but it's going to be very, very tough.

I know if I want to win, it will probably be very, very tough and challenging physically. So I need to prepare myself mentally for that. But he has a fantastic record here. He obviously loves the court and the conditions. It would be a big upset if I manage to win tomorrow.”

This time last year, Murray was returning from back surgery. While he made the quarter-finals or better in all the majors in 2014, he went 0-9 against Federer, Djokovic and Nadal and briefly dropped out of the top-10.

He is now happy to be back amongst the top guns and says he always knew he would rebound.

I knew I needed to work on a lot of things, but I also believed that with the right attitude and the right work ethic and the right people behind me that I'd be able to get back to playing my best again,” said the 27-year-old from Dunblane.

Murray, who beat Berdych in the last four on Thursday, didn’t watch Djokovic’s Friday night semi-final victory over Stan Wawrinka as he tried to keep his mind off the final. It was probably the right decision as it proved a bizarre five-set affair which Djokovic won playing sub-par tennis.

The top seed knows he must raise his level to take on Murray, a player who is just seven days older than him and one he has known since they were 12 years old.

There is little mystery when two players know each other so well and have faced off 23 times but Djokovic senses he will be tackling a new and improved Murray today.

I think he's going for the shots,” said Djokovic. “I think his forehand has improved, judging by the matches he has played these couple weeks compared to a few months ago.

The courts are playing a little bit faster in the last two years than it was the previous years in Rod Laver Arena. Because they are faster, because the ball is bouncing a bit lower, that's pretty suitable to his style of the game. He likes that.

He has a flat backhand and moves around the court pretty well. So it's going to be a very physical match, no doubt about that.”

Djokovic leads Murray 15-8 lifetime and 13-6 on hard courts. He hasn’t lost to the Brit since the 2013 Wimbledon final but doesn’t feel his strong record against Murray will play a huge part.

There's no clear favourite,” said Djokovic, who is gunning for an eighth major in his 15th slam final. “The record I have in finals against him here in Australia, we played couple times, can serve maybe as a slight mental edge. But not much.”

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