Djokovic vs. Murray: Preview, Prediction for Australian Open 2013 Men's Final

Jeremy Eckstein@!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2013

Djokovic vs. Murray: Preview, Prediction for Australian Open 2013 Men's Final

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    Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray is the 2013 Australian Open men’s final the tennis world has been waiting to see. It’s the crown jewel of global attention for tennis Down Under and a showdown of tennis' new top rivalry.

    Following Roger Federer's tough five-set semifinal loss to Murray, tennis' biggest rivalry no longer features the Swiss champion and injured Rafael Nadal.

    Instead, Djokovic vs. Murray will determine the supremacy of tennis.

    The following preview will examine their growing rivalry and how each player will try to win the title. What will this match mean and who will win?

Little Brother Rivalry

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    For the past few years, Djokovic and Murray have taken a backseat to the epic rivalry between Federer and Nadal.

    Things began to change as Djokovic roared ahead in 2011-12 as the top player in the world, defeating Nadal in three consecutive Grand Slam final appearances with their mini-rivalry.

    Murray, age 25 and only one week older than Djokovic, was clearly the little brother in his duels versus Djokovic. By summer 2012, Djokovic held five Grand Slam titles and Murray still carried the title as "best player never to win a major."

Battle to Be the Big Brother

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    Murray then took his career to new heights in the summer of 2012.

    Though Murray lost a gritty four-set final to Federer at Wimbledon, he bounced back a few weeks later to defeat Federer for the gold medal at the Olympics in London. His confidence continued to rise.

    He then prevailed in a five-set triumph against Djokovic at the U.S. Open. He fought off windy conditions and held off his Serbian rival after dropping the third and fourth sets.

    It was his first Grand Slam title, and the perception of Murray had changed. Tennis fans now speak of a Fab Four instead of a Big Three.

    It was also the official genesis of the new emerging rivalry: Djokovic vs. Murray is now serving up an encore at Melbourne, Australia, to determine who will seize the first major of 2013.

    Djokovic still leads the all-time head-to-head 10-7, with an 8-6 advantage on hard court. Murray has a 4-3 edge in tournament finals.

Djokovic's Blueprint to Victory

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    Djokovic is more single-minded than Murray in his approach to winning tennis matches.

    He will look to overpower Murray with scorching backhand strokes and precision shots down the line. He controls a rally with topspin, but he also loves to hit a flatter, harder pace with his winners. Above all, he loves to lace his backhand down the line. He is strong off both wings with the ultimate 21st century brand of baseline power.

    Though Djokovic has worked more on his game to improve at the net, he is still reluctant. He will come in to net to finish shots a little more often against the defensive-stalwart Murray who can track down some of the toughest shots in tennis.

    Djokovic must also serve well. When his first serve is on and his second serve consistent, he is difficult to beat. It's often the indicator of his performance, though not his strength.

    He would like to get Murray in a street brawl of baseline exchanges. Nothing fancy, but pure topspin groundstrokes. The more this occurs, the better Djokovic's chances for victory.

Murray's Blueprint to Victory

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    Murray knows he cannot simply try to out-slug Djokovic. Though he's been more aggressive and opportunistic on his forehand side since 2012, Murray must use variety and guile to keep attacking.

    He must slice his forehand to keep Djokovic from dictating his own rhythm and pace. A fair dose of underspin at the Djokovic backhand will also keep his rival from teeing off up the line. Instead, Murray would like to own the corners and force Djokovic to scramble on defense.

    If he can set up Djokovic to run from side-to-side and stab back at returns, Murray will hold the upper hand. He must not let Djokovic control the middle of his baseline, particularly on his backhand side.

    Murray's success will count heavily on a high first-serve percentage. He routinely tops 120 mph and wins needed free points when serving well. It will alleviate the pressure and fatigue in trying to win exclusively from the baseline.

    In addition, Murray may need to force Djokovic to come in on shots that are sliced low and in uncomfortable locations. A mix of finesse and calculated power is required to keep the Serbian out of his comfort zone.

Djokovic Will Be in Trouble If...

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    In the past, and most famously at the 2012 U.S. Open final, Djokovic has been bothered by windy conditions or inconsistent weather surprises. If there are distractions out of his control, or if he gets off to a slow start, Djokovic might be searching for his composure.

    Djokovic is a wonderful defensive player. He is excellent at breaking serve, but he needs plenty of looks at Murray's weak second serve. If Murray tosses in at least 70 percent of his first serves, break opportunities will be few and far between for Djokovic.

    Trouble could also ensue if he is too defensive-minded. There have been times against Murray and Federer when Djokovic is lulled into trading groundstokes from too far behind the baseline.

    If his forehand is leaky, Murray will attack it in a variety of ways. Djokovic cannot afford a loose game from this side.

Murray Will Be in Trouble If...

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    Murray's versatility is a strength, but it can get him in trouble. He will need the right blend of underspin and aggression. If not, he may find himself trying to chase down Serbian winners.

    Like Djokovic, he prefers his backhand, but cannot simply hit straight across to his rival. If he cannot establish his down-the-line backhand, it will indicate Djokovic is in control. How far behind the baseline will Murray play?

    In addition, Murray must keep his temper in check. At times, he scowls and swears when things go awry. He has shown increased tenacity to gut out tough matches, most recently the fifth set against Federer after letting the fourth set slip away, but he cannot expect to come from behind against Djokovic.

    Murray must avoid too many second serves. It's long been a weakness with the huge drop of power compared to his first serve. Djokovic will earn several service breaks if he consistently gets looks at second serves.

What Winning the Australian Open Means for Djokovic

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    History is on the line. Djokovic can win a fourth Aussie Open to tie Federer and Andre Agassi for most ever in the Open Era. He would be the new King of Australia, and it would be his sixth Slam title overall.

    Djokovic learned how tough it was in 2012 to repeat his masterful dominance of 2011. He last won a Grand Slam title at Australian a year ago. It's been harder to hold onto his No. 1 ranking.

    The Serbian wants to reassert the form that led him to three Slams in 2011. This was the Djokovic who had a 43-match winning streak and flirted with holding all four Slam titles.

    He needs this title to take the clear advantage over Murray and Federer and to try and pull away from his rivals. A loss would drop him behind Murray in the eyes of the tennis world. It could signal a changing of the guard if Murray wins a second straight Slam at the expense of Djokovic.

    The Serbian must win this title to hold the undisputed claim as the best player in tennis.

What Winning the Australian Open Means for Murray

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    Murray got the gorilla off his back by capturing the U.S. Open title, but now he has the opportunity to become the best player in tennis. A second straight Slam would remove all doubt to his status as a superstar.

    The title would also give Murray the status of bigger brother in his rivalry with Djokovic. Though he trails 10-7 in head-to-head matches, Murray can turn the corner here and set his sights on the No. 1 ranking.

    It would also set up a sizzling summer for a chance to capture Europe's Slams. Could he go on to be the first male to hold all four titles since Rod Laver in 1969? Winning the Aussie Open would crack open this window of opportunity.

Prediction: Djokovic in Four Sets

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    Djokovic just came off an easy beatdown of David Ferrer. He has one more day of rest than Murray, who just finished an emotional five-set win against Federer. There should be no excuses for Djokovic being the more tired player.

    In addition, Djokovic loves the slow, hard courts in Melbourne. He will have the ideal time and consistency to control the match. It's on his racket.

    I expect Djokovic to take the first set and cruise to a four-set win.