Rafael Nadal is through to his fourth straight Grand Slam final after dispatching arch rival Roger Federer last night in four convincing sets.
Tonight, it’s Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray’s stage to see who’ll meet the Spaniard on Sunday in the Australian Open final.
Defending champion Djokovic is the clear favorite in this one. He’s beaten Murray six of ten times including their only Slam meetings which came in the 2011 Australian Open final won by the Serb comfortably in three sets.
“He looks fit,” Djokovic said of Murray. “He’s been playing well. He’s definitely, you know, I think very motivated to win his first Grand Slam. He’s been playing last two years finals here. He’s been proving to himself and to the rest of the people that the Australian Open is probably his best Grand Slam.
“But on the other hand I have been playing quite well here in last couple years,” he said. “You know, we have to expect a great match. You know, a tournament cannot ask for better matchups in semifinals. I hope that I can step out on the court trying to repeat the same thing I did last year.”
This time around, Murray brings new coach Ivan Lendl to the table. But Lendl can’t play – back in the day he would have provided good opposition for Djokovic, better than Murray. Lendl can’t hit that big forehand of his, or the backhand, or stare down Djokovic or aim for the Serb’s head. Murray’s going to have to do it. And that’s the problem.
While Lendl was offensive minded in his playing days, Murray has largely been defensive. Playing defense often works great when faced with lesser, especially fatigued competition as Murray has enjoyed this Australian Open. The Scot could not had a softer path to the semifinals.
So in that regard Murray will be fresh but untested coming into this match.
Djokovic navigated a similar, cushy road the first week but the last couple rounds he was pressured by Lleyton Hewitt and then by David Ferrer. In that Ferrer match there did seem to be some leg issues, but if you take Djokovic’s words – he said it was nothing – he should be fresh and fit for tonight.
Djokovic has of course been virtually unbeatable in Grand Slam play. Since the start of last season he’s won 30 of his last 31 matches in Slams losing just that 4-set thriller to Federer in the French Open semifinals and 12 straight at the Australian Open.
He says he loves Rod Laver court, the conditions are not expected to be hot and Murray really hasn’t beaten Novak in three years since Miami.
Adding extra motivation for the Serb is the fact that he knows Nadal awaits Sunday, and we all know he’s owned Nadal. Federer would have been a tougher match, but Nadal is the better matchup for Novak.
The styles also give the edge to the World No. 1. Novak can hurt you any number of ways and no one can change direction or extend like Djokovic. I would say he even defends better than Murray, though I’ll give Andy a slight edge in speed and fitness.
Both guys are playing well. Murray’s undefeated with Lendl however he really hasn’t been any top notch opponents. Djokovic, in a reverse-Federer way, really faded after the US Open making some, like me, to wonder if that magic was gone. But it seems to have returned this week. I guess we’ll find out tonight.
“I’m sure that is going to be, you know, a tactical challenge for both of us, you know, how we gonna perform,” Djokovic said. “In the end I think it’s very important mentally for both of us to start off well in that match.”
As for my pick, yesterday in wrongly tabbing Federer I went with what I saw from Federer/Nadal on the court the last few months and disregarded their head-to-head matchup which clearly pointed to Nadal. Today, I’m looking at both and both tell me Djokovic is the guy.
Novak, though, did drop a curious set to Hewitt and Ferrer pushed him at times in the quarters, so I think Murray, assuming he’ll be on the attack under Lendl’s guidance, will make an impression and we’ll have a match. But the numbers, the conditions, the game and the experience favor Djokovic in four sets.
Match begins at 3:30am ET on ESPN2.
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