We are not even a week into 2017 tennis season and already we are treated to a blockbuster final on the men’s tour! Once again, it’s Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, this time in the Doha final tomorrow.
But it almost didn’t happen. In fact, it probably shouldn’t have. But thank you Fernando Verdasco!
Djokovic took the court first today in the semifinals and after jumping out to a 4-2 lead in the first against Verdasco, it looked like the defending champion would be locked into the Saturday final. Wrong.
Djokovic’s lead fell apart, Verdasco got his claws back in and stole the opening set. He then led by a break in the second reeling off six straight games before giving that break back. Not anywhere near his best, Djokovic was misfiring off the backhand and making sloppy errors, and he gave Verdasco additional break chances during the 4-4 but the Spaniard couldn’t capitalize – foreshadowing? Yes!
So to a breaker we went. And it was Verdasco who seized control racing to a 6-2 lead with four match points. It was over, right? Wrong!
In typical Verdasco fashion, all four were erased, as was a later fifth. Djokovic won 6 of the last 7 points to force the third, and after an early break the match was over with the Serb escaping 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-3.
It was some ugly tennis from Novak at times and some clutch choking from Fernando.
“The match that looked very much in hands of Fernando tonight,” admitted Djokovic. “He was clearly a better player for two sets.
“I thought I started the match well, 4-2, and then just six games in a row lost the timing completely,” he added.
“Again, it was very windy. Obviously both of us, we were quite cautious with our play, especially at times myself, you know. In the end of the day, it was quite a thrilling experience for me to be able to go five match points down. I just received the information that it’s the third time in my career that I’ve done that.
“I’m obviously very pleased, because you need these kind of matches, these kind of confidence boosters, for whatever is coming up after that. Sometimes the player on the other side of the net is just better. He had three out of five match points with his serve, and three, four of the five match points he had a forehand to finish it off and he didn’t.”
Well, Novak, I’m not so sure you “need” these kinds of matches. I don’t think anyone does nor do I think players seek them you, especially not when you have to save five match points. But again, be thankful you were playing a Verdasco because most other players wouldn’t have let you off that hook.
As for Verdasco, he played well, but per his history he couldn’t finish the job.
“It’s tough to lose against someone so important like Novak having the match so close,” Verdasco said. “Honestly, thinking about how was the break points, how was the match points in the tiebreak, and honestly, I don’t think that I really played that bad or I didn’t play bad at all.
“I think that it just didn’t come my way. The three I had with my serve, I serve good. He just return deep. I tried to change the direction. Two of them, one I hit with the frame and the second one it went wide for a little bit, but it was a good play and how I think I should do, no?
“It’s just that sometimes doesn’t happen. It’s tough of course because then you lose that set and everything is very tough mentally.”
Meanwhile, Andy Murray had no such drama cruising past an ankle-hobbled Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-4 to lift his career-best win streak to 28.
So the dream final is set!
Andy Murray v Novak Djokovic
It’s the 36th meeting between Djokovic and Murray, and Novak is ahead 24-11. But recently it’s Murray who has the form and the momentum.
Not only is Murray on his win streak, he drilled Djokovic about 45 days ago in London. He’s also got Lendl, there’s no real turmoil in his camp while Djokovic still seems unsettled with things. And he’s struggling as we have seen this week.
That said, I think Murray’s streak has to end at some point (better here than Melbourne, right?) and I have to think Djokovic relishes this opportunity to get back on top of Murray and to atone in small way for not showing up for the London final.
Plus, perhaps this might be a preview of the Australian Open final in three weeks? Absolutely.
“It’s a great test tomorrow,” Murray said. “To start the year it’s great to play against one of the best in the world. Obviously ideally win the match, but I mean, I don’t know how much bearing a match tomorrow has on what happens in Australia. There is a lot of tennis to be played before we potentially play again there.
“I’m not putting loads of pressure on tomorrow’s match.”
But this time, Murray’s the favorite, so there’s that pressure.
“I’m he hoping I can play on a high level and we can compete as we always did against each other,” Djokovic said. “We have always very physical battles, long rallies, entertaining matches. Between 1 and 2 in the world, it’s a perfect matchup for the final. Let’s see what happens.”
What’s going to happen is I think Murray’s just a little bit more in form right now and in best-of-3, I think he wins.
The Pick: Murray in 3
I know Murray says he’s not putting much on the match, but I am. If he can beat Djokovic again on a hardcourt, that helps him psychologically for Australia.
If Djokovic wins, that helps Novak because it helps erase that bad taste in his mouth from London and gets him back on track as the Australian favorite.
So unlike Andy, I do put importance on this one. But I just don’t like how Djokovic is playing right now, so I give the very slight edge to Andy.
You Might Like:
Serena Williams v. Justine Henin in Australian Open Final, Who’s the Pick?
Murray Wins 27th Straight, Will Meet Berdych In Doha SF; Djokovic Rolls
Roger Federer v Novak Djokovic In The 2015 Dubai Final, Who’s The Pick? Azarenka Beats Venus In Doha
Murray, Verdasco To Meet In Dubai Final
Poll: Who’s Your Early Favorite To Win The 2017 Australian Open?