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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