2016 won’t be remembered as the greatest season ever in pro tennis, far from it. But it will have what could be the greatest conclusion to any season. That’s because the final match between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic at the London ATP Finals will ultimately determine who ends the year on top, and that’s never, ever happened before.
But will it live up to the billing? On to my pick.
Andy Murray v Novak Djokovic
Looking at the head-to-head, everything points the way of Djokovic. He leads Murray 24-10. He’s won 13 of their last 15. He’s never lost to Murray indoors and this is the Scot’s first title bout at the ATP Finals,while for Djokovic, it’s his fifth straight, and he’s never lost one in five previous appearances.
Oh, and did I mention Murray just played 3 hours, 38 minutes beating Milos Raonic today while Djokovic spent just 63 minutes in hammering Kei Nishikori?
So, living up to the billing in this one really looks like a long shot. After the Raonic and the Nishikori win Wednesday, Murray might not make it out of bed tomorrow – remember what happened to Federer two years ago after he played an epic semifinal?
Point is, based on the way Novak looked today, even a fresh, confident Murray would have an uphill battle tomorrow. But now coming off a marathon like that, I just don’t see much hope.
Then again, we’ve seen players rise up against the odds, against their fatigue and win. Rafael Nadal played five hours against Fernando Verdasco then won the Australian Open over Roger Federer. Djokovic has done it, winning in five then going almost six hours to beat Nadal, also in Melbourne.
But Murray isn’t Nadal or Djokovic. He’s more of a defender who needs those legs. And he’s had those long matches in the semifinals in places like Melbourne, but just hasn’t had the follow through on the Sunday after. And in this case, he has the added weight of the No. 1 ranking and of pleasing his home fans. He also played a lot of tennis this season, more matches than anyone on the tour. So, unfortunately for those hoping for a fantastic finish, I just think it’s too much.
Had Murray won today in routine fashion in 90 minutes, I’d give him a much better chance. Still, Djokovic presents a problem. A lot of problems.
Novak’s better than Andy in just about every category with the exception of overhead, maybe return game which I now have them at even, and overall confidence as Murray is on a 23-match win streak.
I give Djokovic the edge in movement, forehand, backhand and in serve. And he’s familiar with the job at hand having won this title five times beating Federer, beating Nadal. There’s also no question he’s fresh and from the sound of it really excited for the challenge of winning again and returning to No. 1.
“I can’t expect anything except to really get myself in the right state of mind and try to perform as well as I did tonight. That’s going to be my only goal,” Djokovic said.
“Other than that, I must say that I’m very honored to be part of the history. I hear this is the first time in the history of the ATP that the two best players are deciding the rankings in the last match. That is something we should all be conscious of.”
Yes, Djokovic had two relative tomato cans in his last two matches, dominating David Goffin and today overwhelming a weary Nishikori. But in his case, he’s already beaten the best and beaten them many, many times. So he has nothing to prove in that regard. Instead, he’s now got his game and groundstrokes fine tuned. Whereas Murray today wasn’t playing as well as he was say Friday when he beat up on Stan.
Andy was missing some easy shots, looked a little sluggish and just looked worn out. But, to his credit he kept it together, showed his toughness and heart and came back from a set and break down to reach the final. But at what price? We’ll find out.
“I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow,” Murray said. “Obviously tired just now because it was a really hard match. It wasn’t just that it was physically hard, it was mentally a tough match, too. It was pretty stressful.
“The physical side, obviously the body is a bit sore after such a long match, but mentally it was tiring, too.”
So, head-to-head, fatigue factor, pressure are all in Novak’s favor. But Murray’s been winning and winning a lot lately. Djokovic hasn’t – his last title came in Toronto. So for you Murray fans, there’s your hope. Murray comes out swinging, Djokovic feels the nerves, starts missing backhands and serves while Murray gets the emotion going and the crown.
“I’ll just give my best of what I’ve got tomorrow,” Murray said.
Will it be enough?
The pick: Djokovic 7-5, 6-2
ESPN2 will have live coverage of the last official ATP match of the season at 1pm ET. This result could be just about anything except a rout for Murray. That’s because the numbers and the eye test and the time on court tell me this should be a routine Djokovic win. May the best man finish No. 1!
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