Australian Open 2015 Men's Final: Djokovic vs. Murray Preview and Prediction

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2015

Australian Open 2015 Men's Final: Djokovic vs. Murray Preview and Prediction

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    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    After a crazy two weeks full of upsets and breakthroughs, we're left with the same Australian Open final we've had in now three of the last five years: Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray.

    Both 27-year-olds have made it to the final in rather straightforward fashion, dropping only two sets along the way, in each case to a top-10 player. Murray dropped one set to Grigor Dimitrov (No. 10) and one to Tomas Berdych (No. 7), while Djokovic dropped two sets to Stan Wawrinka (No. 4) in the semis.

    Murray, currently No. 6, is back into his first major final since winning Wimbledon in 2013, while Djokovic, now No. 1, has made the final in three of the last four majors, with his only recent win coming at Wimbledon in 2014.

    We'll find out on Sunday whether it's Murray walking away with his third Slam or Djokovic walking away with his eighth. Here's everything you need to know about the matchup.

Who Has the Historical Edge?

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    Andrew Brownbill/Associated Press

    Novak Djokovic has the historical edge in this rivalry, especially in Australia.

    Djokovic leads the head-to-head over Murray 15-8. The duo has faced off in the Australian Open three of the last four years, with Djokovic winning each time. Two of those matches were finals. Djokovic steamrolled Murray in the 2011 final, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. The 2013 final was a bit closer, but Djokovic still ran away with it at the end, 6-7(2), 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-2.

    Their closest match at the Australian Open was the 2012 semifinal, which Djokovic won 6-3, 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-1, 7-5 in four hours and 50 minutes.

    Overall, Djokovic has won four Australian Open titles, while Murray has won none.

    However, Murray can take a lot of solace in the fact that he is 2-2 against Djokovic in Grand Slam finals. That means that both times that Murray has won a Slam, he's beaten Djokovic in the final.

How Djokovic Has Looked so Far at the Australian Open

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    Vincent Thian/Associated Press

    Djokovic looked great throughout the fortnight in Melbourne. That is, until he didn't.

    The Serb's 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 victory over Stan Wawrinka in the semis was an ugly, rhythmless match that saw Djokovic revert back to his worst tendencies: defensive, error-prone and negative.

    He was able to survive and make it to the final only because Wawrinka faded completely when it mattered the most, but it would be surprising if Djokovic beat Murray playing the way he was playing on Friday.

    He talked to reporters after his win in the semis about his form, via AustralianOpen.com:

    I did not play on the level that I intended before the match. There were parts of the match where I stepped in and played a game I needed to play, but parts of the match where I played too defensive and allowed him to dictate the play from the baseline. He has great depth in his shots. Once he has control of the rallies it's very difficult to play against him. So, yeah, it was very emotional, very tense, as it always is against a top player in semifinals of a Grand Slam.

    Djokovic needs to put his semi performance behind him and step it up a notch in the final if he wants to win his fifth Australian Open.

How Murray Has Looked so Far at the Australian Open

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    Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

    Andy Murray has looked like a new and improved version of himself throughout this fortnight, at least compared to his 2014 self.

    He is serving well, taking control of points early and clearly has a renewed confidence in his fitness that is doing wonders.

    His coach, Amelie Mauresmo, is certainly confident about his form, as reported by Nick McCarvel of USA Today

    He feels more comfortable on the court, he moves much better. His back surgery is something that is now well behind him. I think that was also the main focus and really the most important thing for him to feel strong physically going out there on the court so that he can at least defend his chances the best way he can.

    Murray has only lost two sets during his run to the final, and both have been to top-10 players. In the semis, he withstood an early onslaught from Tomas Berdych to win the match in four sets. Based on semifinal performance alone, Murray is the more in-form player. 

Biggest X-Factors in the Final

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    Shuji Kajiyama/Associated Press

    The Coaches

    Both players have all-star coaches in their box. Novak Djokovic has Boris Becker in tow. The two have worked together for the past year, and in that time Djokovic has made it back to the French Open final, won Wimbledon and gotten back to No. 1 in the world. Becker was brought in to give Djokovic the champion's edge in championship-caliber situations such as this one.

    Andy Murray, meanwhile, has been working with Amelie Mauresmo for about six months. Murray has defended the hire against critics who said that a woman wouldn't be able to help him. Mauresmo was brought to his camp to keep the variety in Murray's game, but also to improve his fitness and to help him become more aggressive.

    We'll have to see which coach has the biggest impact on the match on Sunday.

    The Weather

    It has been an unseasonably cool fortnight in Australia with nary a heat advisory in sight. Instead, the players have had to deal with chilly weather that slows down the courts a bit, and occasionally with annoying winds.

    The 2012 U.S. Open final between these two was marred by wind, and while both guys were rattled, Murray handled it better and ended up with the victory. Djokovic doesn't play as well when he's frustrated as Murray does.

    Djokovic's Form

    Well, this may seem obvious, but after Djokovic's low-quality play in the semis, it has to be said. If the Serb comes to court on Sunday as listless as he did on Friday, then this match will be over—in Murray's favor—rather quickly.

Djokovic Will Win If...

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    Scott Barbour/Getty Images

    Novak Djokovic will win this tournament if he remembers that he is the No. 1 player in the world and that he has won this trophy four times already.

    That's right—Djokovic needs to get some swagger back into his step before he takes the court against Andy Murray for the final. Confidence of any kind was sorely missing from his semifinal against Stan Wawrinka, and it resulted in a defensive and ordinary-looking Djokovic, who should probably be on the plane back home already.

    Djokovic is a very sensitive guy, and he plays his best tennis when he has bravado. He is a four-time Australian Open champion. He's won this title three of the last four years. He's the top-ranked player in the world. He has everything he needs to win this title for a fifth time within him. Now, he just needs to execute.

    He needs to step in from the baseline a bit. He needs to take big cuts on returns. He needs to take control of rallies. He needs to believe that he can win.

    If Nole can get some of his swagger back in time for the final, he should walk away with his eight major.

Murray Will Win If...

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    Mike Groll/Associated Press

    Andy Murray will walk away from Melbourne with his first Australian Open title if he just keeps playing the way he has throughout the fortnight.

    Murray has been charging through the draw as if he has a massive chip on his shoulder, but he's been able to turn that chip into authoritative, winning tennis. Perhaps he feels overlooked due to all of the struggles he had over the past year, or perhaps he feels slighted because of all of the criticism he got for hiring Amelie Mauresmo.

    Whatever the reason that Murray feels like the world is against him, it's spurring him to some of the best tennis he's played in his career. He's serving with authority, taking the ball early and moving around the court with ease. Sure, he's still overly intense and dramatic out there on court, but it seems to fuel him rather than distract him at this point in his career.

    If Murray wants to win the third major of his career, he just needs to keep doing what he's been doing, no matter what Djokovic throws his way in the final.

Prediction

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    Lee Jin-man/Associated Press

    Before this tournament began, I picked a Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray final, with Djokovic walking away the winner. (You can see the proof here, though please ignore all of my many embarrassing predictions while you're at it.)

    Well, I'm not going to stick by it. It's very possible that I'm just having a knee-jerk reaction to Djokovic and Murray's respective forms in their semifinal matches, but I'm going to have to give Murray the edge in this final.

    If he plays the way he's played throughout this fortnight—particularly in the final three sets against Tomas Berdych in the semis—he should win this match no matter which Djokovic shows up in the final.

    My pick is Murray in four sets.