Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray: Are They Headed in Opposite Directions?

SubbaramanContributor IIIJuly 7, 2011

KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 26:  Novak Djokovic (R) of Serbia talks with Andy Murray of Great Britain during a change over of their doubles match against Sergiy Stakhovsky of the Ukraine and Mikhail Youzhny of Russia during the Sony Ericsson Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 26, 2011 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were born a week apart in 1987, with Novak being a week younger. They played each other in their junior days and had earmarked the other as their potential biggest rival in years to come, for both of them were aware of the other's talent and genius.

Being very evenly matched in terms of talent, one wonders if they perhaps should have played more Grand Slam finals than they already have. They have only played one Grand Slam final, the Australian Open earlier this year. One of the primary reasons they have only played each other nine times (6-3 in Novak's favor) is because they were in opposite sections of the draw, and Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal had a near monopoly on the finals berth.

It is curious to see that while Novak has had a dream of a year, Andy really is at the crossroads of his career. For all his talent, not winning a slam will continue to haunt him no matter how much he tries to play it down. In fact, it's admirable how he has kept his composure, given he hails from a nation whose media at times can go over the top with their coverage.

Andy is probably playing better than he has ever played. He has been to the Grand Slam finals thrice and has more than paid his dues. He also appears to be mentally ready to take the next step, and physically he is in the best shape of his life.

Yet, at crucial times, when he is about to take the next step, it appears that the situation gets the better of him, and he seems to recede and take a backward step. That didn't come out any more than the recent Wimbledon semifinal against Rafa, where he was clearly the better player at the start of the match. Yet he inexplicably failed to show up from that point in the second set where he had a chance to break Rafa's serve.

I am not so sure that the groin was responsible for his defeat as much as his mental problems. You almost feel that Andy doesn't think he can beat Rafa when playing on any surface other than hard courts. This despite the fact that Rafa has recently not been the player we know he can be, notwithstanding his win in Roland Garros and the Wimbledon final appearance. His form has been scratchy right from the start of the French Open and continued on to Wimbledon. Rafa admitted as much that this was primarily due to his mental troubles in dealing with the successive losses to Novak in finals.

Andy really has to look no further than Novak Djokovic, a player he has played against plenty of times right from the junior days.

Novak himself has been a victim of his mental woes, specially in 2009 and 2010, when much was expected after his maiden Grand Slam win in early 2008, and it appeared that he was just content playing second fiddle to Federer and Nadal. However, he has resurrected his career and turned it around so much that he is now the favorite to win every event he plays in.

If Novak wins many more Grand Slams and achieves legendary status at the end of his career, the year 2011 will without any shadow of a doubt be his turnaround year. It is almost a given that he will end this year as the No. 1 ranked player.

Andy Murray may be Britain's best tennis player ever, bar none. However, unfortunately for him, his career has coincided with Federer, Nadal and the new and improved Djokovic. Federer and Nadal are unquestionably of legendary status already, and Novak may be heading there furiously. Also unfortunately for Andy, the record books matter, and his status in the game will be measured only by his Grand Slam wins.

Therefore, Andy needs to turn around his career and quickly, otherwise he is in danger of fading away completely. The next eight to nine months are crucial for Andy and could foretell how this brilliant tennis player's future would look like.