Happy to start off w/ win. I play on Wed vs @andymurray—always a challenge. O2 Arena was packed! Thx for coming!— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) November 6, 2012
"Always a challenge" is one way to say it. A couple of months ago, when Djokovic and Andy Murray faced each other in the U.S. Open finals, it took almost five hours to determine a winner—and at the end of it all, Murray emerged as a first-time victor in a major after going 0-4 in major finals.
It was a defining victory for Murray and a big loss for Djokovic, who was looking for his first major win since the 2012 Australian Open, when he took down Murray in the semifinals. Now, almost two months later, Djokovic will have another opportunity to avenge that loss. He had his first opportunity--and took advantage of it--back in October, when he bested Murray at the Shanghai Rolex Masters. This time, his opportunity will come on a smaller stage once again, but a chance for a win is a chance for a win.
Back on Sept. 11, Murray bested Djokovic in five sets, but it wasn't easy—for either of them. Murray took a two-set lead before Djokovic came roaring back, only to wither away in the final set as Murray surged ahead for a 7-6 (12-10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 victory.
Now, both players are in very different places. Djokovic has finally reclaimed the No. 1 ranking and is assured of keeping it through year's end, while Murray sits comfortably at third. Djokovic seems to have regained some of the swagger that he was missing for most of the summer, when he lost to Rafael Nadal in the French Open finals, lost to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon semifinals, lost to Murray in the Olympic semifinals and then lost to Murray again in the U.S. Open finals.
This may not be a major, but the ATP finals is the last tournament of the year for the likes of Murray and Djokovic, and it gives each of these players an opportunity to end his season on a positive note.
Judging by the way things transpired the last time these two faced one another, this match bodes to be a good one.
To get here, Djokovic took down Tsonga 7-6 (4), 6-3, and Murray took down Tomas Berdych 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Now, a berth to the tournament semifinals is on the line, and though both Djokovic and Murray were challenged in their most recent matches—albeit Murray more so than Djokovic—each of them knows they will face a far bigger test on Wednesday.
After taking down Tsonga, Djokovic told the Los Angeles Times:
When I'm playing Andy, I need to be ready for long rallies and a physically demanding match. So I'm going to have a day [Tuesday] to recover and get ready for the next challenge.
Murray, meanwhile, knows he wasn't at his best against Berdych—but he also knows he's capable of beating Djokovic, even when the top-ranked player is at his best. He did it twice this summer.
The rivalry between these two is friendly, according to Djokovic—he told Steve Griffiths of the Agence France-Press:
We practice with each other very often, whenever we can. We are big rivals as well, but also very fair to each other. It is a very friendly relationship. I'm very glad to keep that relationship with Andy, somebody that I've known for a very long time.
But that doesn't mean that Djokovic isn't eager to put to rest those bad memories from this year's U.S. Open and end his 2012 campaign with a victory over a player who is quickly establishing himself as one of the best in the game.
The ATP finals is no time for friendships, and that won't be lost on either of these elites.
Djokovic has already accomplished one goal by assuring himself of finishing 2012 with the world's No. 1 ranking. Now, it's time to accomplish another.