Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic will be ready for war in the Wimbledon 2013 Men's Final. It's the third time in four Slams that they will face each other in the final, and it's their first meeting for the Wimbledon title. This is the rubber match of the past year to decide tennis supremacy. Murray won the 2012 U.S. Open at Djokovic's expense, and Djokovic remained King of Australia by battling back against Murray.
They are the two best returners in tennis and have showcased their talents on grass, quickly turning Centre Court into scintillating baseline play.
Djokovic is the ultimate tennis machine, a science fiction cyborg built as an impeccable ball striker. He blasts with laser-like precision from both wings and stretches with inhuman flexibility to save winners. When other mere mortal players grow weary, he becomes stronger. He will never stop charging in the face of defeat.
Murray is Great Britain's rugged hero, an odd reincarnation of Braveheart charged with the task of destroying his implacable opponent. He stalks the sidelines like a predator, racing from corner to corner as a counter-punching extraordinaire. Is he the chosen one who will complete the British quest for its own hallowed title?
They are only one week apart in age, each of them in his prime, and looking to fulfill their roles as highly-touted golden children of their generation. They know each other, like brothers playing and fighting out in the backyard. Djokovic is the decorated older brother with a more impressive legacy. Murray is the little brother trying to catch up beneath the eyes of his approving parents.
From 2006-2010, they met only seven times, Djokovic winning their first four matches followed by Murray's three consecutive wins. Nearly two years would pass until their next meeting, where they would truly begin to establish their prime tennis.
Djokovic defeated Murray in straight sets at the 2011 Australian Open to begin his current reign as the No. 1 player in the world. He would also defeat Murray one year later at the Australian Open semis in an excellent five-set victory. Murray's best success last summer was keyed by his wins over Djokovic, but since the U.S. Open Djokovic has regained the upper hand in their rivalry with three straight wins.
Will little brother find equal footing once again?
He smiled a lot in his first five matches without having to take the emotional elevator of highs and lows. He knows he is the best player in the world, and is now accustomed to turning the first several matches into a cake walk. There has been little fanfare, like a party without guests. There was no need for a lot of media attention when the outcomes were mostly predictable.
Then Djokovic endured an epic semifinal victory over Juan Martin del Potro who played at his "A" level. There was the fourth set agony of blowing match points in the tiebreaker, and there were definite parallels to his French Open semifinal heartbreak to Rafael Nadal one month ago.
He is the ultimate survivor, built to withstand an apocalyptic barrage. Battling fatigue and a hot opponent, he blasted a service winner at 128 mph, the fastest of his tournament. Where does he summon up the energy?
Mission accomplished: he is in the Wimbledon final and well-tuned for the occasion.
After smooth sailing the first four matches, there have been plenty of familiar scowls from the harried Scotsman. His biggest test came in the quarterfinals as he fought back for a five-set victory against hard-hitting Fernando Verdasco. It was the kind of highlander grit and defense that saved his dream and sharpened his competitive groove. Move over, William Wallace.
Murray's semifinal victory over powerful Jerzy Janowicz was kind of a representation of his own career arc. He was snakebit in the early going, but saved himself from another big deficit and matured with championship mettle to pull away and close out the set.
He is staring in the eyes of his greatest wish and destiny. He might receive a B+ to this point in the tournament, but he has concocted a blend of smart tennis and composure. He is prepared to ride the rigors of an emotional odyssey and has never been more prepared to win Wimbledon.
Energy: Djokovic spent nearly five hours battling against a hard-hitting Del Potro in a very physical match. If this were anyone else, this would be more of a worry, but another five sets could lead to the slightest reduction in leg freshness, speed and powerful ground strokes. He might try to play some shorter points when he sees the opportunities.
Murray can also shift into overdrive to win a Grand Slam. He has the crowd on his side and can channel both positive and negative trends into greater success. Djokovic has usually proven to have one extra gear, and this could very likely be the deciding factor.
Net Play: Djokovic's surprising tactic to finish more points at net was largely the key in clinching his 2013 Australian Open title. He looked to seize initiative rather than play a scrambling match with Murray. Will he follow up big strokes with easier finishes at net?
Ironically, Murray may try to draw Djkovic in at the net with slices and drops. He would need to do this with offensive intentions rather than trade power with the Serbian.
Will Power: Djokovic can regather himself and stare at an opponent's elevated play with a semi-amused smile as if to say, "OK, you are playing great. I will raise my game. I welcome this."
Murray is more likely to yell at himself and voice his frustrations to the crowd. He knows it will be grueling and painful to defeat Djokovic. Will he win the battle of wills?
Novak must be Novak. The formula is programmed into his positronic mind. He must continue to serve at a high level. He must attack with baseline power and paint the sidelines. He cannot have another bad day hitting his backhand up the line. He will have to run down Murray's best shots and turn them into offense. This is 90 percent of the Djokovic textbook to winning tennis.
The other 10 percent will require fine-tuned adjustments to exploit Murray's in-match difficulties. He must also neutralize a heavy dose of slice shots. Too much patience could dull his aggressiveness. Unnecessary risks could play into Murray's control. It's a fine line that will take intuitive and thoughtful commitment.
A lot gets written about his heart and resilience, but little penned about his courage. He is fearless with important shots and willing to live with the results. Nobody can say he does not get in his hacks. He will have no regrets.
If Djkovic produces at least 10 opportunities for break points, his chances are great he will be hoisting his second Wimbledon trophy in three years.
Murray would like to conduct ballet tennis at a heavy metal rock concert. If he can lull Djokovic into more finesse tennis and keep him from lining up his power, he will have Centre Court rocking like a 1970s Led Zeppelin performance.
Many tennis fans theorize that Murray is a better grass court player than Djokovic. The ball will not hop as high into Djokovic's eager backhand, and this is the perfect venue to mix in low underspin, drop shots and critical decision-making shots. He won their Olympics semifinal meeting on grass last year, but will need to prove this again in winning three of five sets.
Murray's winning formula will require his full arsenal of skills. He must avoid giving Djokovic looks at his second serve. He has to create sharp angles with his shots and finish well up the line. If he can force Djokovic to move all over the court, vertically and diagonally, he can disrupt his comfort from the baseline. He might also look to hit several balls in the center baseline to take away Djokovic's favorite angles.
If Murray is able to attack from a position of strength, in true highlander spirit, he will be holding the Holy Grail for all of Great Britain. Even King Arthur would be proud.
In a topsy-turvy Wimbledon, Murray and Djokovic restored a more expected final pairing. The fairy tales are over, but the biggest one is still unread: Will Murray win Wimbledon?
Djokovic is usually the superior player with the greater legacy. If he plays his kind of tennis, he will win in four sets. He is also determined to wash away the tough ending to his French Open run.
Murray is the underdog, but grass will help him close the power gap and use his variety. He should have more energy in the fifth set, crowd support and improved toughness and experience to finish this match.
This would be a mild upset, but I'm continuing with the theme of this tournament and picking Murray to ride his best tennis to a five-set victory. They will be dancing in the streets from London to Glasgow and King Arthur will finally rest. Long live Braveheart!