Australian Open 2016 Men's Final: Djokovic vs. Murray Preview and Prediction

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2016

Australian Open 2016 Men's Final: Djokovic vs. Murray Preview and Prediction

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    Andy Murray looks on as Novak Djokovic gives a speech during the 2015 Australian Open trophy ceremony.
    Andy Murray looks on as Novak Djokovic gives a speech during the 2015 Australian Open trophy ceremony.Scott Barbour/Getty Images

    The 2016 Australian Open men's final features the most dominant player in the game against a man desperate to change his status as the perennial runner-up. 

    In a rematch of the 2015 Australian Open final, Andy Murray hopes to disrupt the genesis of the Novak Djokovic era. Murray also wants to shed the perception that he's the weakest link in the Big Four. 

    Murray defeated Milos Raonic, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-2, in the semifinals. Djokovic beat Roger Federer in four sets in his semifinal. 

    Djokovic will try to win his sixth Australian Open title, which would tie Roy Emerson for the most in tournament history. Murray hopes to win his first. 

    He faces a difficult task in trying to thwart the "Djoker."

    Djokovic has ruled the ATP World Tour over the past two years. He's reached the finals in six of the last seven Grand Slams. Last year, he was just one win away from a calendar-year Slam. With his win over Federer, Djokovic now has a winning record against every member of the Big Four. 

    Meanwhile, over the past two years, Murray has emerged as stiffer competition than Nadal. 

    Just as in the photo above, Murray has been relegated to observing victory speeches at Grand Slam finals. Can he solve the Djokovic problem and finally finish in front? 

    The following is a look at keys to victory, the matchup and prediction for the 2016 Australian Open men's final.

Who Has the Historical Edge?

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    Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray after their match at the 2015 Paris Masters.
    Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray after their match at the 2015 Paris Masters.Associated Press

    Djokovic enjoys a 21-9 record against Murray and has won 10 of the last 11.

    Murray last defeated Djokovic at the 2015 Rogers Cup, which snapped an eight-match losing streak. Djokovic was coming off a devastating loss in the French Open finals. 

    Last year, in their match at the Australian Open, Murray admitted to getting distracted when Djokovic fell to the ground due to cramps in the third set. Murray also told Kamakshi Tandon, writing for Tennis.com, that after that, Djokovic seemed to kick into a higher gear. 

    "The fourth set, I mean, obviously I need to watch it back to see if I played badly," Murray said. "I mean, he was just ripping everything. Returns he was hitting on the baseline, this far from the line all the time. Once he got up a break, he just loosened up."

Djokovic at the Australian Open

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    Novak Djokovic celebrates his semifinals win over Roger Federer in the 2016 Australian Open.
    Novak Djokovic celebrates his semifinals win over Roger Federer in the 2016 Australian Open.WILLIAM WEST/Getty Images

    Although Djokovic's semifinals match against Federer was the most anticipated, the fourth-round clash with Gilles Simon provided the biggest challenge. The Frenchman took advantage of Djokovic's 100 unforced errors, pushing the Serb to five sets. 

    Djokovic put on a clinic in his 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win over Federer.

    After the match, he told reporters (via AusOpen.com) that he raised his level against Federer: "Well, I've had matches where I've played similar tennis. But I think against Roger, these first two sets have been probably the best two sets I've played against him overall I think throughout my career."

    He also finished off Kei Nishikori with relative ease. 

Murray at the Australian Open

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    Andy Murray celebrates his semifinals win at the 2016 Australian Open.
    Andy Murray celebrates his semifinals win at the 2016 Australian Open.Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

    Murray survived a five-set battle against big-serving Raonic in the semifinals. The Canadian took the third-set tiebreaker to go up 2-1. In a tussle between two clutch servers, Murray got the best of Raonic after the Canadian appeared to have some injury issues.

    The semifinals marked the first true challenge for Murray, who otherwise cruised through his matches. In the quarterfinals, Murray defeated a feisty David Ferrer in four sets.

    Rising star Bernard Tomic (fourth round) and teen sensation Alexander Zverev (first round) were supposed to give Murray problems. However, Murray dispatched the youngsters in straight sets. 

Biggest X-Factors

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    Novak Djokovic makes a play on the ball during the semifinals of the 2016 Australian Open.
    Novak Djokovic makes a play on the ball during the semifinals of the 2016 Australian Open.Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

    Second-serve pressure and fatigue will be the biggest X-factors. 

    Djokovic is winning more than 75 percent of his first serves. More impressive is that he's winning nearly 63 percent of second serves. 

    The drop-off between Murray's first and second serve is a massive liability. Murray has to take chances on his second serve. 

    Twice in Grand Slams—at the 2014 Australian Open and 2015 French Open—Djokovic succumbed to a player who kept pounding away. In both cases it was Stan Wawrinka, who has a better second serve than Murray. 

    Murray will be coming off a grueling five-setter. Meanwhile, Djokovic has an extra day of rest. If this match goes to five, fatigue will become a huge factor. 

Djokovic Will Win If...

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    Novak Djokovic celebrates his semifinals win over Roger Federer at the 2016 Australian Open.
    Novak Djokovic celebrates his semifinals win over Roger Federer at the 2016 Australian Open.WILLIAM WEST/Getty Images

    Djokovic is playing his best tennis, and he must avoid any letdowns like the one he had against Simon. 

    On Djokovic's performance against Federer, Tennis Magazine's Steve Tignor wrote: "If Novak Djokovic's play during the first two sets of his 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win over Federer in Melbourne on Thursday wasn't a master class in tennis—not "modern tennis" or "baseline tennis" or "today's tennis"; just tennis—then it's hard to say what could qualify."

    If Djokovic brings that type of brilliance to this match, he'll be unstoppable. 

Murray Will Win If...

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    Andy Murray hustles to make a play during his semifinals match at the 2016 Australian Open.
    Andy Murray hustles to make a play during his semifinals match at the 2016 Australian Open.WILLIAM WEST/Getty Images

    Murray has to play the match of his life and hope that Djokovic falters. Murray's strengths—powerful first serve and ability to counterpunch—are rarely strong enough to offset Djokovic's superior all-around game. 

    However, Murray is a grinder. If he can get more power and depth on his second serves, he may be able to steal a few breaks from Djokovic. He'll also need to catch a couple of breaks in long rallies. 

Prediction

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    Novak Djokovic poses with the trophy in downtown Melbourne after winning the 2015 Australian Open.
    Novak Djokovic poses with the trophy in downtown Melbourne after winning the 2015 Australian Open.Rob Griffith/Associated Press

    A matchup between No. 1 and No. 2 in the world should be more even than this contest is going to be. 

    The fact is that Djokovic has far more ways to inflict damage than Murray. The Serb dismantled Federer, who has a far more complex game than Murray, and he previously destroyed Nishikori, who is faster and quicker than Murray. 

    After his win over Federer, Djokovic told reporters: "It's important that at the end of the day your convictions are stronger than your doubts."

    There's no doubting Djokovic's dominance. He will win his 11th major, knocking off Murray in straight sets.