For the third time this decade Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray meet in the Australian Open final. Djokovic leads his childhood rival – they were born just seven days apart – by a hefty margin of 15-8. And the Serb has won the last four and seven of the last eight meetings. Murray’s lone win came on Novak’s least favorite surface, that being on the grass at 2013 Wimbledon.
Unfortunately for Murray, the Australian Open is no longer played on grass. That changed years ago. Now it’s of course on the easier-to-maintain hardcourts, a surface Murray hasn’t beaten Djokovic on since his 5-set victory over years ago at the 2012 US Open.
So the Serb leads in their overall head-to-head and on hardcourts at 13-6.
And the numbers go on in favor of Novak. But enough with the numbers. On paper we know Novak has the edge. The data backs it up. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.
That’s because this is probably the best Murray has looked since that 2013 Wimbledon run when he beat Novak. He got over on Grigor Dimitrov a week ago. Then dismantled Nick Kyrgios before basically bullying Tomas Berdych, feeding the Czech bagel in the second set of their match.
Murray also has something to prove. Many credited Ivan Lendl with steering him to glory. “Murray can’t win without him,” said the critics when the two split.
Now under Amelie Mauresmo he’s out to show that it’s more than just about the coach. It wasn’t all Ivan. And after a rough start to the partnership last summer, the results are on the upswing.
This week Murray’s been the aggressor, taking the ball early and attacking off both sides. He still has the wheels to play defense when he needs to, but I like that he’s going after it more and more. And I like the fiery attitude he brings on the court.
But here’s the problem: Djokovic is just better than Andy in just about every department. Maybe Andy has a little more variety, however Novak has all the shots, the complete package. He’s like a video game. We know.
Yet I wonder if his confidence was maybe cracked after that uninspiring performance over Stan last night. Maybe. And if so, can he hit that backhand down the line? Can he serve well? And will he go after Andy’s second serve? That’s what he’ll need to do because after losing three previous Australian Open finals, I really think Murray is going to come out with a first-ball offensive game plan.
Too bad for Murray, I just don’t think it will be enough. If Novak can find his “A” game when he needs it – I don’t think he can have it for the whole match – he’ll get through this.
The key for me will be Murray’s weak second serve against Novak’s top-notch return. If Murray doesn’t serve well he’s going to be in trouble. And I think eventually that second serve catches up with him.
The pick: Djokovic in five
ESPN again has the coverage live at 3:30am ET. It’s a great way to start Super Bowl Sunday.
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