Their names roll off the tongue easily like Simon and Garfunkel, Abbott and Costello, Batman and Robin—Djokovic and Murray. It is hard to say one name without adding the other.
They are linked inevitably as part of the current tennis landscape because they have existed as backups to the top two guys, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Like the ingenue treading the boards waiting backstage for a chance to take over the lead role, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, both age 23, have been waiting for their moment in the spotlight, learning their lines and practicing their art for over three years.
They have been ready to go, according to their fans and supporters, since 2007 or 2008.
But, so far, neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal have been willing to step aside to allow the World No. 3 or World No. 4 the opportunity to take home the major award at one of the grand slam events.
Djokovic, however, did sneak in once, winning a career grand slam singles title—the 2008 Australian Open. The Serb did not face No. 1 or No. 2 in the final. He did, however, defeat Federer in the semifinals.
Djokovic has also appeared in two other major finals, both at the U.S. Open against Roger Federer in 2007 and against Rafael Nadal in 2010. He lost on both of those occasions—not yet ready to outdo the superstars.
Andy Murray has never won a major, but has been to two slam finals. The Scot’s first appearance came against Roger Federer in the finals of the 2008 U.S. Open. The second came at the Australian Open in 2010 where Murray again folded under the pressure of facing Federer. Murray's finals in the brilliant spotlight became too much to overcome.
When considering current great tennis rivalries, fans probably zero in on Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal or perhaps Venus Williams vs. Serena Williams. But the thought of Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray as an intense rivalry barely flutters across the tennis collective mind.
Why? Because they seldom play each other. They have met seven times in total, with Djokovic leading the head to head 4-3. The two have met six times on hard courts and once on clay—all were ATP Masters Series events—the last in 2009.
Think about it this way. Djokovic has played against Federer 17 times, winning four matches. The Serb has battled Nadal 23 times winning seven matches. Murray has played Federer 14 times, winning eight. The Scot has met Nadal 13 times winning four.
Murray and Djokovic have met seven times since 2006—averaging a little over one match a year.
Like Federer and Nadal, World No. 3 and 4 are always on opposite sides of the draw and often they only have a chance to face each other in the finals after working their way through their respective draws.
Inevitably that means defeating Federer or Nadal to get to the final. Both of them would have to accomplish that in order to meet. This will continue to be true as long as the two maintain their ranking in the top four.
Djokovic vs. Murray Rivalry
In their head-to-head contests it is of interest that Djokovic won their first four contests. The Serb defeated Murray at the 2006 Madrid Masters, round of 16, the 2007 Masters semifinals at Indian Wells followed by the 2007 semifinals in Miami. Finally Djokovic won on the clay at the 2008 Monte Carlo Masters during the round of 16.
On the other hand, Murray has won their last three matches. The Scot defeated Djokovic in the 2008 quarterfinals in Canada, the 2008 finals in Cincinnati and the Miami Masters finals in 2009.
Altogether Djokovic has won 18 singles titles: two in 2010, five in 2009, four in 2008, five in 2007 and two in 2006. The Serb owns one grand slam title. Djokovic has been ranked in the top four since July of 2007.
Similarly, Murray has won 16 singles titles: two in 2010, six in 2009, five in 2008, two in 2007 and one in 2006. Unlike Djokovic, the Scot has no grand slam titles. Murray moved into the top four in September of 2008 where he has remained consistently except for a few weeks of sitting out as No. 5.
In tennis circles or the media, Djokovic and Murray serve as reference points for Federer and Nadal. Where do Djokovic and Murray reside in the draw? Who will Federer have to defeat to make it to the final? From time to time Murray is regarded as the greater threat—then Djokovic.
More to the point, the two remain mired in the obligatory speculation that runs rampant before a major tournament gets underway.
Will either Murray or Djokovic break through this year? Will they finally live up to their great promise? If not now, when? Because time, as always, is running out on the two who teeter on extinction at age 23—according to the media.
While Djokovic has a slight edge in accomplishments over the years, the two men are fairly equal and bring some powerful weapons to the table. Djokovic won more earlier while Murray won more later. Both their games continue to evolve, getting better and displaying more consistency as they each wait to break through.
Djokovic and Murray: Strengths and Weaknesses
Murray is consistently described as a counter-puncher, which means he plays the game with his focus on defense. He employs defense to generate offense utilizing clean ball striking and unerring accuracy.
The Scot transitions quickly from defense to offense, anticipating and moving exceptionally well. He can generate explosive power on his groundstrokes, often surprising his opponent lulled into complacency by the slow pace Murray establishes as he waits for his opponent to make a mistake.
Murray’s return of serve is almost without equal and his own first serve is a true weapon. The knock on Murray is that he is often too content to remain behind the baseline waiting for his opponent to force the action. The Scot they feel is too passive and needs to step up his aggression and take it to his opponents.
Djokovic utilizes a similar style of play and, like Murray, is known for his defense, his powerful ground strokes, his clean ball striking and his return of serve.
Good off both wings, the Serb has a turbo-powered forehand that can be a real weapon. His movement around the court is smooth and deceptively quick.
Since tinkering with his serve, after going through a bad patch, Djokovic has returned to serving exceptionally well. The knock against the Serb in the past was his tendency to give up, to retire when the opposition got too him, rattling his self-confidence and his resolve.
Djokovic appears to have put that behind him. He is fitter now and more patient on court.
The 2011 Australian Open Final
Djokovic took a large step forward by defeating Roger Federer in the semifinals of the 2011 Australian Open. The Serb is now in the finals—a place where he has enjoyed success in the past. It appears that his opponent should be Andy Murray, who must still get by Spaniard David Ferrer in his semifinal contest.
If Murray and Djokovic finally meet in the 2011 Australian Open final who has the best chance to win? Djokovic has the advantage having won here before. But Murray may be hungrier. He made it to the final in 2010, losing to Federer. He will not make the same mistake again—will he?
A new champion will be crowned—one not named Federer or Nadal, and that has not happened in a major since Juan Martin del Potro won the 2009 U.S. Open. Neither Federer nor Nadal will appear in the final, and that has not happened in a major in three years, since January of 2008.
Is the men’s tennis landscape truly shifting again? Will new players step up to challenge the top two or is this an aberrant blip on the screen caused by an inspired mind swell down under? Stay tuned because whatever happens, it will not be dull...