If you're like me, you prefer putting your money where your mouth is, and hence comes the ultimate path of a sports bettor. Looking at the facts, the 2011 Australian Open Men's Final is one that for a long time can go either way. Sure, the Nadal vs. Federer final two years ago had its fans, but ultimately Federer was the mass favorite, and he lost in five.
I present to you the most noteworthy facts leading up to this match:
The head-to-head record is weak because Djokovic and Murray haven't met since 2009. Their last two meetings, however, were both finals and on hard court. The Nasdaq Open saw Murray win in straight sets 6-2, 7-5 while the Cincinnati Open saw Murray win in straight set tiebreaks, 7-6, 7-6.
A five-set match has yet to happen, and the difference between a five-setter and a three-setter cannot be overstated. If you've ever played both three- and five-set matches, you'll attest to the fact that losing the first set of a three-setter is much more alarming than in a five-setter.
Indeed, in a five-set match, some players take advantage of losing the first two sets. Their opponent usually goes full steam and is in a moral high, thus making it easy to drag him down in the third and fourth set, if you know you have the better endurance.
When it comes to endurance, Murray beats Djokovic, flat out. Yes, Djokovic bested Federer in that brilliant five-setter in the U.S. Open just in September of last year. But consider Federer's gameplan and Djokovic's road to that semifinal. Aside from the scare he got in the first round, Djokovic didn't drop a single set before meeting The Fed Express.
Now, consider that Djokovic's wins against Federer in the second and fourth sets were quick, 6-1 and 6-2 respectively. Now we move onto Murray and his run to the Aussie Final last year. It wasn't as smooth as this year, as he faced Roddick in the quarters. Also, like this year, Murray got one fewer day of rest. The final was calm for Federer, and Murray served in subpar fashion in the first two sets.
For this matchup, two things to consider will be the weather and both players' serves. It's forecast to be a very hot day, and this does not bode well for Djokovic. It doesn't mean he will dry up, but for his history, the longer the match goes, the better for Murray. If Murray serves well, it will be a closer match. Depending on who starts the game, Murray could win on some key tiebreaks as he did against Ferrer.
The mental aspect of the game only works against Murray. You would think Djokovic has a lot to prove and he does, but he should not feel anywhere near the same pressure as Murray does.
First off, Djokovic has beaten Federer in back-to-back Slams. Secondly, he's not facing Nadal in this final, and third, he's won a Grand Slam and it just so happened to be the Aussie Open. Also for fun, if you're searching for a pattern, Djokovic rebounded by winning the 2008 Aussie Open after losing in the Final of the 2007 U.S. Open. He just came off losing the 2010 U.S. Open Final, so naturally he should win the 2011 Australian Open, right?
More seriously, however, we move to the pressure of Murray winning in his third Slam Final. I can't find the stats, but I do believe only two other men in the history of tennis have lost their first three Slam Finals. Only Goran Ivanisevic achieved the feat in the Open era, finally winning as a long-shot wild card in his fourth appearance at the Wimbledon final.
So, Andy Murray would be the only man in the Open Era to have made three Slam Finals and not won if he lost to Djokovic in this final.
But that's what makes picking the winner here so hard. Djokovic should be the favorite and many tennis analysts are picking him across the board, yet Murray has much more to lose than Djokovic. Djokovic would boast a 1-3 Slam Finals record himself if he lost, just a tad better than Roddick's 1-4 Slam Finals record, but he doesn't have the British press hounding every one of his moves.
Ultimately, even with the hot forecast I do pick Djokovic, uneasily I might add, but I think he takes it in four. His stamina has improved recently, and he has the added rest and blistering confidence to beat the defending champ.