Djokovic Faces Murray for the Australian Open Title: The Stakes
The Australian Open final is set. No, it won't be a showdown between the No. 1 and No. 2, as it was last year. Instead, it will be a remake of the 2011 final, between the current No. 1 and No. 3, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Men's tennis has now reached a point, in this current generation at least, where every Grand Slam final becomes historic.
If for only the most basic of reasons, it might be that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are nowhere to be seen. Their dominance having been such that absence might have more power than presence. There is surely something more than cutting edge about a second consecutive final between Djokovic and Murray, however. A changing in the tennis guard might be in the making.
Certainly, there were signs of this in Murray's victory over Federer. So rarely has Federer fought through a match, as he did to bring a fifth set, only to be assured deep down he was probably going to lose. It was a momentous match, which really might not have deserved the five sets that were played.
In times to come, tennis historians might mark it out—a moment not unlike Safin's victory over Sampras at this tournament in 2002.
Djokovic's earlier progress over Ferrer, while utterly ruthless, simply spelled out dominance in terms only Federer had in 2007, dropping one game less than the latter had in an Australian Open semifinal.
Unlike the U.S. Open last year, where Federer lost before even facing Murray and where Murray still had to prove himself that one step more in the final, in 2013 we have the two men, accomplished Grand Slam champions, facing off in another Grand Slam final. We may find tennis' great new rivalry.
For one, Djokovic has much to gain and lose. Winning will make him the winner of four Australian Open titles, the highest tally in the Open Era and equalled only by Roger Federer and Andre Agassi. He will also achieve what neither man could, in winning three straight Australian Open titles. A record like that would surely elevate him above even their company at the Australian Open.
A win will also protect his No. 1 ranking and firmly cement his dominance at the head of a tri-archy (as long as Nadal remains out of the question) over Murray and Federer. Djokovic winning a sixth Grand Slam would tie him with such greats Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker—comparisons with whom would surely make him an all-time great in the eyes of many.
For Murray, the opportunity to win a second straight Grand Slam must be thrilling—not only would it be his second Grand Slam title overall, becoming the first Brit since the great Fred Perry in 1934 to win this event, it would signal his rise to tennis dominance.
Unlike Djokovic, he has nothing to lose and all to gain, rankings-wise, in the final, while Djokovic as the defending champion obviously stands to lose with anything but a win. If Murray wins, doubts will surely be raised about Djokovic's No. 1 ranking, in a situation not unlike Nadal's when he bested Federer at the French and Wimbledon in 2008.
One remembers that match, on the hallowed grounds of tradition-laden Wimbledon. The moment is not dissimilar in 2013, on the greatest tennis court of the New World, in Melbourne, Australia.
A Murray win would undoubtedly signal a minor shift in power in his favour, but the match, whatever outcome—especially if it becomes a five-set thriller—will foreshadow the rise of tennis' new definition of the battle royale.
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