This time around I have not seen much news of “Can Andy Murray finally win a major?” Sure, there have been articles, blogs, discussions, comments about Murray and his flawless performance till the final, but it has become more about the contest, than about the eventual result. Perhaps this is because of his last two failings in a Major final.
Murray knows that this is not the “last” chance of him winning a Major. There will be many more chances for the grabs—he has historically done well at all Majors barring the French—and it is more important to enjoy the moment than to live in the possibility of “What If?”
This time, though, he does not have the misfortune of facing a red hot Roger Federer, like he did here last year, or a determined Rafael Nadal, like he did at Wimbledon. His rival is the third seed Novak Djokovic, and this is the first time they will in almost two years—a shocking statistic considering they have been at Nos. 3 and 4 for almost all the time, but also understandable. They would always be placed on opposite halves, so the final is the only place they can meet—and for that, they have go past at least one of Federer and Nadal.
As seeds three and five, there is not much to choose between these two good friends. Murray has the better first serve; Djokovic is more consistent with his. Both have fabulous returns of serve, their backhands are comparable—Murray has more touch and variety, Djokovic has more firepower. Djokovic’s forehand is better, Murray’s touch and feel around the net is something to die for. Djokovic will hit more winners; Murray will commit less unforced errors.
The contest will be about strategy. Djokovic, as well as he played against Federer, will have to significantly change his game plan against the Scot. First, as good a defender Federer is, he is always gives some free points with errors, which helped Djokovic. Second, Murray will scramble and ramble much more than Federer, and Djokovic does not have enough firepower to blow Murray out of the court. He will have to be consistent from the baseline, and not get hobbled up when Murray keeps returning his one extra ball in play. The key to his game would be his cross court forehand and down the line backhand, and attack Murray’s weaker forehand. One more thing he did pretty well against Federer was returning deep balls in the middle of the court, which troubled Federer. It looks a pretty return of serve, but will frustrate Murray like anything.
The bigger concern for Djokovic will be the intangibles. His semifinal was intense—even I as a viewer could feel the tension, it would have been thousand times more for him. Will such a big win affect his intensity, or will it spur it on? It was the latter in the U.S. Open final. Sunday is supposed to be the hottest day so far in Melbourne, with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celcius during the day. Novak has been more resistant to heat as the time has passed, but heat may become a factor in the later sets, which makes it absolutely essential for Djokovic to get a good start.
Murray himself struggled against Ferrer with fitness issues. He should recover it with the two days rest, but will it bother him again? Nobody knows.
All in all, this match is really a toss-a-coin from the bleachers. Both have ways to win the match, both have weaknesses, which may become crucial. Grab your popcorn, throw away all the tensions, and tune into the battle of the World Nos. 3 and 4 (Murray’s current ranking notwithstanding). It is not a Federer-Nadal finale, but it is something we all have been wishing since long.