The 2015 Australian Open men's final features a familiar face in top seed Novak Djokovic, the champion of the tournament in three of the past four years. Andy Murray is the other participant, having endured a gauntlet of a draw to get here as the No. 6 seed.
Rust plagued Murray last season, and he only showed flashes of elite form until the end of the year, when he seemed to pick up some momentum in winning two late singles titles. That has carried over to the dawn of the new campaign.
While Djokovic will be considered the favorite as the four-time Australian Open winner, he did just endure a grueling, five-set epic with Stanislas Wawrinka, avenging 2014's five-set loss to him in the quarterfinals.
Plenty of stories precede both these superstars as they battle for the season's first Grand Slam title. Let's take a look at the schedule, along with a preview and general predictions as to how the championship match will unfold.
Note: Stats courtesy of AusOpen.com.
|2015 Australian Open Schedule: Men's Final|
|Sunday, February 1||Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Andy Murray (6)||3 a.m. (TV coverage); 3:30 a.m. (match)||ESPN||WatchESPN|
Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray Preview, Predictions
Levied with criticism for switching coaches to Amelie Mauresmo, Murray has made the most of the change, elevating his game well enough to be in a Grand Slam final despite a tough draw.
A source close to Murray's camp told The Telegraph's Simon Briggs that an adjustment in Murray's mindset in his training and preparation is at the root of his improvement:
Andy’s practice sessions are so different now to how they were last year. And even to how they were under Ivan [Lendl]. He is so relaxed, there’s no sense of fretting when he misses a ball. It's as if Amélie has helped him to control his perfectionism. The other thing you notice is how much they speak on the court, whereas Ivan would just stand and watch.
That added mental edge is something Murray needs in facing Djokovic. While Rafael Nadal is the King of Clay and Roger Federer is the grass-court virtuoso, Djokovic's skill set is designed to thrive on the hard courts.
SportsCenter notes how tough Djokovic has been in the past, as his finals triumphs in 2011 and 2013 were over Murray, during which he dropped just one set total:
However, the toughest possible matchup Djokovic could have asked for this side of Wawrinka is a revamped Murray, making their meeting in the final all the more exciting.
The last time they met in a Grand Slam final was 2013, when Murray had no problem taking down Djokovic amid immense pressure at Wimbledon. It therefore stands to reason Murray can overcome the poor track record at Melbourne Park versus Djokovic.
Both players will try to be aggressive and establish the tone early. It's just going to be difficult for either to get an edge. The fitness and counterpunching ability both Djokovic and Murray have should lead to longer rallies than most dueling opponents would have on the faster surface.
This should result in the first set going to a tiebreaker, where a mentally and physically fresher Murray will have the edge and critical upper hand to start.
Djokovic was not in top form for much of the Wawrinka match, with his serve suddenly susceptible to breaks and his typical precision a bit off, wherein he socked 49 errors to just 27 winners. The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg highlighted a particularly discouraging statistic in his analysis:
But it's the competitive grit Djoker showed to get the job done that should help him recover and regather himself in time for the Murray match.
Still, Murray should move better toward the beginning and be able to position himself for more effective returns than Djokovic has on the improved Scot's serve. In that scenario, it won't be until the third set that Djokovic's juices really kick in and he takes a set.
Since their last encounter in this final, Murray has become quite a different player and seems to be surging, using his stellar late-2014 form as a springboard. More is at stake for Murray as he tries to notch the third leg of the career Grand Slam against a nemesis who's denied him twice before.
What's perhaps most encouraging for Murray is that he just had 16 aces against an opponent with an impressive blend of size and athleticism in Tomas Berdych in a four-set semifinal win. If Murray can weaponize that in similar fashion on Sunday, he has a great chance of pulling the upset.
In a match that should go four sets, look for Murray, playing slightly better tennis coming in, to frustrate Djokovic, draw on his new, less tense attitude and confirm his return to prominence on the big stage.
Match Prediction: Murray wins; 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5