Analysis: Djokovic Outlasts Murray In London Classic
| November 7th, 2012, 2:42 pm

By Matt McGladrigan

It was a match that had much hype and billing beforehand across the world, particularly in Britain, where it received almost as much attention as the events of the US election. This is the rivalry that we all want to see at present. Arguably the top two at the moment, although I think a certain 17-time Grand Slam champion would have a word or two to say on that subject. Yet, we got everything promised and more, with another barn-storming match between these two heavyweights of the sport.

Murray came out on a mission and managed to break his Serbian friend in the very first game, charging into the net and sliding a cross-court forehand past Djokovic on break point. Whilst applying pressure to most of Novak’s service games in the opening set, Murray served delightfully and comfortably got the first one on the board, 6-4. He was aggressive, proactive and instinctive, leaving Djokovic struggling to find any solutions. The Scot lost barely any points on serve throughout the first set, particularly behind his first serve which was consistently finding 130 to 135mph range.

Champions and world number ones respond in the only way they know how though. Djokovic finally got himself firmly into the immense and typical baseline rallies and converted a break point (on which Murray surprisingly and wrongly decided to mix in some serve and volley), before eventually sealing the second set 6-3, much to the London crowd’s dismay. As probably could have been initially predicted, we were going to a decider.

The Serbian broke early in the decider, taking advantage of some sloppiness by the British number one, whilst also slamming some second serve returns back to the Scot’s side of the court. Murray was chuntering and muttering away to himself at these times of adversity. The game was still on a knife-edge, you felt, and at 4-3 on the serve of Djokovic, Murray upped the pace once again. The spectators were urging their man on, to neutralize control of the match once again. And he delighted them by leveling at 4-4 after winning a break point on a challenge.

The rallies lengthened again, and with them an increase in physicality and nerves. Andy managed to reach 15-30 on the Serb’s serve at 4-5. Yet, Djokovic responded with force and precision to snuff out any hope and put the pressure back on the Briton. That he did. And Nole broke to serve for the match at 6-5. Murray, roared on by a patriotic audience and his crew of Lendl, Kim and co., rallied with strong length again and some excellent work both forehand and backhand drew him 2 break points. I think we even caught a smile from Lendl at this point, but I imagine that was quickly wiped off. Novak hit back with three huge first serves, down the T and out-wide, to get match point up. Then, he sealed the crucial psychological victory over his great rival when Murray fired long.

A tremendous contest between two of the finest players you’ll ever see, to brighten up an otherwise miserable Wednesday afternoon (here in England). Akin to a pendulum, momentum switched back and forth from Scotland to Serbia. Murray will feel desperately disappointed as Novak was perhaps there for the taking. He struggled at times with his slice, and at one point we caught him comment “great slice, great slice” sarcastically on camera. But the variety was there for the Dunblane-born man and on that showing he should have enough to win his final match.

A final set tie-break would have probably been merited from both players, but it wasn’t to be in that 12th game of the decider and Djokovic clung on to take a valuable 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 win. Andy shouldn’t criticise himself too much though, as truly the contest could have gone either way. Unfortunately, it went the wrong way for the vast majority of the 17,000 plus in the O2 Arena. But their man will be back and fighting, on Friday against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in what is now a pivotal match. Should Murray still make it through to the last four, the winner of tomorrow’s contest between Federer and David Ferrer would more than likely be his semi-final opponent.

Djokovic, meanwhile, will be ecstatic to get a second consecutive triumph over his US Open conqueror. Things don’t slow down much for him either, as he has apparently got his dog to walk this evening; much to the delight of his coach Marian Vajda I’m sure. All in all, another thrilling encounter between these two and many will be hoping that they play their eighth game of 2012, before the season comes to a conclusion on Monday.

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35 Comments for Analysis: Djokovic Outlasts Murray In London Classic

Brando Says:

Great write up Matt, sums up the match very well!

For me Novak’s consistency along with his taking initiative in a lot of the rallies was a striking thing about him today.

This is an area that I would like Andy to improve on going forward: to be more mentally consistent throughout the match- as every moment is a key one against the top 3.

And also to go for his shots more often, in particular, to head towards the net more often as he- after fed of course- maybe the most natural at the net of the top 4.

Nole, to his great credit, went to the net on numerous occasion’s- showing a willingness to take great risks against a baseliner of Andy’s quality.

It paid off on many of these points(25 plus i think).

I’d like to see Andy do something similar to this- to take risks when it matter most, as opposed to being conservative with his play.

It’s tough to do- BUT i think he can, and in time he will!

grendel Says:

“I think we even caught a smile from Lendl at this point,” Yes, it was a bit like Wodehouse’s Jeeves who, if surprised or dismayed, raises his left eyebrow about a sixth of an inch. Lendl extended his lips in either direction approx 0.65 mm. Personally, I was quite moved.

“the game was still on a knife-edge, you felt, and at 4-3 on the serve of Djokovic..” I don’t agree with that. Djokovic seemed to me to be pretty much in control, and it was a surprise when Murray broke him. I just checked my recording to make sure I didn’t dream that impression, and at 15-0 (4-3) Djokovic hoisted an easy ball miles out – loss of concentration is the only explanation I can think of. Murray earned the next 2 points, but serving at 30-40, Djokovic committed another surprising unforced error to give Murray the break.

Murray was hot in the 1st set as everyone has noted, and although it was too much to keep that level of play going, it was a shame how he reverted to somewhat passive play. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but somehow Djokovic is more dynamic than Murray, and he is much the more dangerous of the two when his back is against the wall. Murray is gritty, but Djokovic snaps out of the doldrums and plays tennis out of this world. He does this consistently, too, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. And then he misses some easy shots – somehow his soul is not engaged, I don’t know, it’s curious.

Serving at 40-15, 3-2 in the 3rd, Djokovic’s 2nd serve was extraordinary. I’ve put down the score if anyone wants to check, because I’m not sure if I altogether trust my eyes. The serve was heavily sliced, and by the time it reached Murray it was head high and still climbing. Murray did well to get a reasonably decent racket on it, but even so, he delivered a short ball which Djokovic duly punished. Petchey said it just wasn’t good enough returning a second serve so short, and Leify backed him up. But I don’t see what Murray could have done – the serve looked unplayable to me.

RZ Says:

Thanks for the write-up Matt.

Bummer that Murray couldn’t keep up his level of play from the first set throughout the match.

mat4 Says:

I started some comments the other day about Djokovic, but didn’t finish. While Andy enjoys playing defence and countering, Novak is first an attacker who plays good defence.

On this surface, where the rebound seems slow but low, Novak can’t really hit flat his FH, the slice is an excellent weapon, and his lack of power is evident. I expected Murray to win, but he obviously doesn’t understand that he could use his exceptional power to play more actively and win his points. I still think that he is an excellent tactician but a bad strategist.

Anyway, Novak has to go to the net when confronted with so many slices — and since everybody starts to using it against him, I believe he will finally learn to hit a forehand volley and to predict his opponents defensive reaction.

the DA Says:

This Tsonga/Berdy match is quite entertaining now. For a brief period it looked as if Tsonga had thrown in the towel such was the look of dejection on his face. Anyway, one set all.

Will Jo win and send Nole through? Or will Berdy triumph and mix up the qualifying permutations?

racquet Says:

@ mat4

*he obviously doesn’t understand that he could use his exceptional power to play more actively and win his points.

Um, did you watch the first set and a half, or take note of the stats?

jane Says:

I’m loving all of the detailed analysis of the match; I missed it, but usually there is a replay on TV so I hope to catch it then. Just at work but peeking at scores of Berd/Jo. Looks like another good contest.

grendel “somehow his soul is not engaged, I don’t know, it’s curious.” – not sure if you’re alluding to comments you’ve made before about Novak’s robot-like tennis, but I see soul there, all the time. Sometimes his soul is TOO engaged, I’d argue. :)

racquet Says:

@ jane

btw, I found a post on another forum which contains all the permutations if Berdy should win tonight. You have no worries if Tsonga wins but it gets rather funky for Andy, Nole & Tomas if he loses. I’ll post them in the event he loses.

Polo Says:

Agree with everything Brando said. If Murray can acquire Djokovic’s mental attitude, he can beat him consistently. I think he has a better game but often does not know how to use it fully. Instead of berating himself, he should focus all his energy on his game.

jane Says:

Thanks racquet: I find round robins confusing in themselves, but then when it comes down to sets lost, games lost, etc…,I am lost! I suspect Jo to lose, actually. He’s lost two close ones recently against Berd.

jane Says:

Oops I meant expect not suspect, and I see Tomas has the break on cue.

the DA Says:

@ polo – That’s fair. Andy had exceptional focus during Wimbledon, the Olympics and the USO. In Tokyo and Shanghai he lapsed back into his old ways when the matches started to slip away. He certainly knew how to ‘play more actively’ in the Shanghai match to reach 5 MPs.

For me the really interesting/significant period is coming up: the long training block with Lendl in Miami during December. They haven’t had more than 2 weeks together. I expect we’ll see the results of some fine tuning.

racquet Says:

Oh boy, Jo has collapsed completely.


I’ll get the permutations ready to post ;)

mat4 Says:


Actually, I watched the first set and the end of the third. And I still think that my point is valid.

racquet Says:

@ jane

Okay, so here goes:

If Andy and Nole win on Friday they both qualify. Actually, I just realized I’ve only got the permutations for Andy!! LOL Sorry. But note that there are scenarios where Andy can qualify if he wins in 2 sets and Berdy beats Nole in 3. Or he could lose in 3 sets and still qualify as long as Nole wins in 2. Confused?? :)

alison Says:

I wouldnt take Andys match against Jo as a gimee,Jo will be playing for pride,the last thing he will want is to get whitewashed,just a thought.

jane Says:

Ugh o_0 racquet… I think will just wait and then believe whatever “they” tell me when the time comes! :)

racquet Says:

I know Jane…we’ll just have to hope our guys bring their A-games and hope they avoid 3 setters with lots of games. Straight set wins for both would be what the doctor orders.

jane Says:

^ Okay, that’s a simple enough prescription racquet!

Margot Says:

A terrific write up Matt. Thank you.
Are you going/have you been to the O2?

Thangs Says:

It’s good to see an article in Tenni-x for a match involved not someone named federer.

grendel Says:

@jane 5.44:”grendel “somehow his soul is not engaged, I don’t know, it’s curious.”

jane, I guess I wasn’t clear. My query related to how he could pull out the most spectacular tennis when he is in deep trouble – and yet on other occasions miss easy shots. My interpretation – if you can call it that – is that when in trouble, Djokovic’s soul is very definitely involved. Sometimes when he has an easy shot,however, his attention wanders, his soul takes temporary leave of absence. I guess the spiritual logic (to extend the analogy) is that you can’t keep focused all the time – all that posturing by Sharapova is an attempt to do so, and it’s pretty annoying to watch and I’m not convinced it works anyway. So Djokovic drops his focus almost unconsciously, sometimes anyway, when it looks like he’ll get away with it. And generally he will – he’s good enough, usually, to play on automatic pilot when presented with relatively easy stuff.

b.t.w. I’ve changed my mind about that clinical stuff. It was ignorance on my part. Having watched more of Djokovic, I am realising what a truly amazing player he is. Congratulations to you for discovering this fact so early on. I do think he has improved though, don’t you? He seems to me a much better player now than, say, when he won his first slam.

grendel Says:


“I believe he will finally learn to hit a forehand volley”. My impression is that Djokovic is very secure indeed on the defensive volley, not so good when he moves forward aggressively. It doesn’t look natural, somehow, and he does make the odd howler. On the other hand, he has the courage to keep trying, and someone as gifted as him is likely to succeed eventually. Did you know that Lodra, who has by far the best s and v game on the tour, was a poor volleyer at the outset of his tennis career (according to Barry Cowan, anyway), and he deliberately set out to become a skilled volleyer – spotting a niche, I guess.

I don’t understand your remarks w.r.t Murray. He was marvellously aggressive in the first set. For whatever reason, he did retreat after that, and that proved fatal. Perhaps it’s simply a question of Rome not being built in a day?

mat4 Says:


Novak has no choice: Rafa last year started to slice against him every time he was in a defensive position, and Novak had a lot of difficulties finishing points. Andy does it very often too, so he has to learn volleying aggressively. He is clearly better, and his backhand volley is decent, but he can’t hit the ball cleanly with his forehand. That’s probably the reason why he hits so many drive volleys.

I don’t know what to think about Andy Murray. When I watched his match against Rafa, last year, in Tokyo, as a Novak fan I was scared [to death] thinking about the damage he could make if he was always in the frame of mind he had that day.

But it is perhaps not a matter of frame of mind: perhaps he just can’t find that mixture of precision and power all the time. Let’s just look at the number of UE he makes. Djokovic is that good because he can find lines over and over, but Murray, who has more power, could have difficulties to be so precise, especially when he is worn out by long rallies.

We could check, but it crossed my mind that he plays a much more aggressive game in the beginning of matches, or when he serves well, and is not that tired. After all, he is a bit heavy, and could fatigue a bit faster.

mat4 Says:

Does anybody find it strange that Rafa will return to competition on December 28th, 6 months precisely after his loss in Wimbledon?

Matt Says:

@ Margot

Unfortunately not! Tried to get tickets but were either sold out or ridiculously expensive. At least one match a day is on national TV here at the moment, and I’ve managed to catch a couple of the others too.

Thanks for the positive comments. Keep reading!

jane Says:

“I do think he has improved though, don’t you?” grendel, definitely.

I am so happy to hear you say that you see him in a different light.

Clearly, a lot of the improvement was on display in 2011. I think most aspects of his game have improved: he developed his forehand, specifically (his coach has talked about this – especially the cross court shot). His return is instinctual, but I think it improved due to the serve experiments in 09-10; he had to rely on his return game much more. His volley has improved. Maybe his backhand hasn’t; it seems he uses the down-the-line shot a little less than he used to, but I like that shot, would like to see it more. He’s a little bit faster and fitter, and a lot more mentally tough and motivated. More focused. More sure of himself.

But I do see what you mean about the casual errors. One thing about 2012 is that Novak has often started matches with the mastery of last year, but then he’s taken his foot off the gas and gotten into trouble: there were several examples, say, in Miami in a few matches (he came out with 6-1 versus an opponent but then was suddenly in a tiebreak in set 2, sometimes broken while serving for the match); in the FO versus Tsonga he came out on fire; in Paris last week versus Sam, same thing. There are probably various reasons for these shifts (including of course the opponent’s form rising simultaneously with Nole’s dropping, etc) but it does seem to have been a pattern this year – that he hasn’t been as consistent throughout matches as he was in 2011. He’s been consistent in results, but in terms of the matches themselves, they’ve been tighter, with more roller coasters and heart attacks for his fans, lol. Is that his mind wandering? Maybe that’s it.

Alok Says:

“His return is instinctual, but I think it improved due to the serve experiments in 09-10; he had to rely on his return game much more.”

Not getting into the discussion, as I only read the first few sentences. however, the above caught my eye and I found it to be funny. Anyone’s return would be instinctual when they see an object coming towards them, because it’s only natural to put up a defense, viz, either duck or return.

jane Says:

Nole’s return isn’t just sticking out his racquet defensively, and not all serves are body serves so there’d be no need to duck in a serve out wide, for example; if anything a player would have to lunge. I have always liked how conty calls some of Nole’s returns “cartwheel” returns – so descriptive that girl. His returns are often aggressive, rather than defensive, shots, and thus he can take control of a rally sometimes because of that. His coach calls Nole’s returning abilities his gift.

Wog boy Says:


You are right about “gift”, I was reading Jelena Gencic’s interview last year about Nole and she said the same thing. She said that from the very first day she started to work with little Nole she noticed that gift. His body was moving split second earlier, in the right direction, before serve. She said that is something that no coach can teach you, that is a gift.

grendel Says:

“His body was moving split second earlier, in the right direction, before serve” (Wog boy). That must be it. Unfortunately, I’ve deleted my recording -these planners are not nearly big enough, are they, especially when you have a son who is taping films left right and centre – so I can’t recall when exactly it occured (towards the end..) Murray hit a huge serve, it was also close to being a body serve in that Djokovic was a little bit tucked up. Anyway, he timed his return perfectly, using Murray’s pace and Newton’s 3rd law of motion, and the return went screaming for a winner. Now that did look entirely instinctual, or involuntary. Out of interest, I rewound, and you see Djokovic drawing back his racket and hitting with purpose, deliberation and direction. Not, therefore, automatic. The whole thing is quite amazingly quick – too quick, in a way, hence the usefulness of Wog boy’s explanation. In general, I have noticed that Djokovic anticipated a lot of where Murray was going, to the extent that I couldn’t help wondering:”why doesn’t Murray go the unexpected way?”. Probably that’s easier said than done, I suppose.

alison Says:

Grendel planners only hold so much,i had a whole series of Broadwalk Empire that got wiped off,before i even had a chance to see a single episode,they dont let you save stuff indefinetly,best to watch it then delete it IMO.

grendel Says:

alison – that’s appalling! I can’t say I’ve had that experience with skybox, you can keep the stuff for as long as you want. Trouble is, the planner does fill up without you quite realizing it until it is too late. It’s a bit like buying books which somehow you don’t quite get round to reading. On more than one occasion (I am ashamed to relate) I have bought a second hand book which it turns out I possess already…

So you had a whole series of Broadwalk Empire, eh? Were you saving them up so you could indulge in a binge viewing… I did that once with “24″. It was a weird experience, time seemed not exactly to stop but to lose all meaning. One hour followed another, and it might just as well have been one minute followed another. I had a similar experience, other things being equal, with drinking beer once….

Anyway, I’d get hold of those Boardwalk Empire episodes if you can, it’s an excellent series. There is some wonderful televison drama coming out of America these days, we should savour it whilst it lasts. May I recommend “In Treatment” and “Breaking Bad” especially.

alison Says:

Grendel yeah bloody annoying,if i like the sound of a series i will record it,with a view to eventually having a day or an afternoon binge,but somehow i never get around to it as when im not working,im busy shopping or doing housework im afraid,ive actually had 24 on dvd boxsets for a few years now but havent got around to watching them either,but at least i have them forever no matter what,ive had that experience with alcohol myself,dont remember a thing but certainly suffer in the morning,i will give those series you recomended a go too,thats if i actually can find the time,i also love a good read and usually do that when im on holiday.

Alok Says:

@wogBoy, 11:31pm, I think it’s more anticipatory skills, which comes with experience for most top players. They know when to move and change direction in anticipation of a return, which happens after playing some players several times.

I think of instinctual as innate, and that would mean nearly all top guys are born with it, which I don’t see for a fact. That’s just how I see it, and why I made the comment. Instinct tells us to move out of the way of a target. Anticipation tells us to expect an action. It’s similar to saying you can read so and so like an open book and read their every move. That’s how I seethe difference between instinct and anticipation.

That said, djokovic does have one of the most flexible bodies and can bend, and lunge in directions, most other players can’t.

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