Sunday, 27 January 2013

Novak v Andy - writing another chapter

Last time they met here, Murray gave Djokovic a five set work out before falling in a semi final. Later in 2012, Murray edged the world number one in semi finals in Dubai and at the Olympics, but in finals, Djokovic won in Miami and Shanghai, while Murray broke through with his epic US Open win.  The final clash was at the season ending Championships where Djokovic beat all comers including Murray on the way to the final.

The form of both as they forged respective paths to this year's Aus Open final has been terrific, with Murray dominant over Federer but not able to put him away earlier than five sets.  Djokovic on the other hand was playing in another universe from David Ferrer when he gave us a demonstration of the best three sets of tennis by an individual seen on this court in a long time.

My pick for the title from the start has been the world's best player and top seed Novak Djokovic, and nothing has happened in two weeks to change that selection.  It would not surprise to see Andy Murray greet the judge, but at their best I still believe Novak has the slight but diminishing edge.

After winning the toss, Murray gave Djokovic the honour of serving first, hoping to take advantage of early nerves.  After a rifled forehand Murray winner , Djokovic answered with an ace and a backhand winner to easily hold the opening game.  Three ground strokes hit long showed that Djokovic had still to find his range, and Murray equalled at 1-1.
A couple of drives by Djokovic to Murray's backhand proved relaxing and he put the car back in the garage with two forced errors.  Even a Murray forehand winner received an ace in reply and Novak led 2-1.

A Murray overhead to start and ace to finish made it 2-2, and in the first decent rally of the match in game 5 Murray won out, the error coming off the Novak racquet.  Other mistakes brought him to an unwanted deuce before finally a new rally of the match was won with a stunning Djokovic backhand winner down the line and the game was safe.

The sixth game was all about catch up for Murray right from the first cross court forehand winner from Djokovic and saving multiple break points the third seed won himself a moral victory - games were 3-3.

At 15-15 in game seven, Novak's diving stretch forehand to ultimately win a point all but gone was magical and gave him massive momentum to run out that game to lead 4-3.
Murray saved another break point thanks to a great serve and based the eventual winning of the game on more of the same from the line. 4-4.

As the set neared its conclusion the standard of shot making hit a flat spot with nearly all points decided on errors in the ninth game.  A rare exception was the ace Djokovic served to win the game and edge to 5-4, asking Andy to serve to stay alive in the set.

Murray held firm behind a couple of good serves and the set lingered on.  A fine forehand winner highlighted a Djokovic service game where he continually pushed Murray wide to his backhand side.
5-6 and tie break likely.  At 15-30, Djokovic committed some uncharacteristic unforced errors and we did have the tie break.

Double fault from Djokovic unacceptable but Murray enjoyed it.  So much so that he hit a forehand winner to celebrate 2-0.  This became 4-0 after two Djokovic mistakes long, and things looked bleak for the top seed.  On the board eventually after a long rally, Novak, who for much of the set had looked the stronger and more likely to break serve, still appeared certain to be down a set.  Murray had played a Federer-like tie break and hardly made a mistake.  6-1 and running hot.

Nothing miraculous happened for the top seed and the first set was Murray's 7-6 (7-2).
Now the come back capabilities of Djokovic would be put to the test once more.  In general play he was creating opportunities, but now he had to deal with the momentum that Murray had harnessed.

The opening game of Set 2 showed that Murray was now willing to attack more in the vein of the
Federer match and that narrowed the opportunities for Djokovic to push the Scot around the baseline.
Easy hold for a 1-0 lead.  The deflation from dropping the first set reflected in the shot selection and execution of Djokovic which for the moment had slipped slightly enough to have him in trouble even on serve.  Three break points to Murray.  Slowly the champion scratched and clawed his way to the temporary safety of deuce.  A couple of clean winners assisted him over the line and his serving record remained intact.  1-1 and no small amount of drama.

Not even a clean forehand return winner could faze Murray whose serve now took on the untouchable look that it picked up in the semi final.  2-1
Andy was returning the Novak serve quite well now but he couldn't do much with the aces.  Novak needed a few more of them because he still was taken to deuce.  A rare netted forehand then a forced backhand long gave Novak an escape to 2-2.

Andy was winning the extended rallies with the frustration apparent in Novak's court demeanour, now less than super cool.  Aces acted as bookends to the game which gave Andy 3-2.
A far more impressive serving exhibition from Novak plus better choice of shot placement proved a better method of levelling the game score 3-3.

Despite a double fault Andy sailed along to another service hold with a suite of Novak errors on board. 4-3.  Two Murray forehands, one a winner, the other into the net, plus some fine Djokovic net play set things up for a 4-4 score.

Again a double fault at 40-0 did nothing to stop the juggernaut into which the Murray serve had now developed.  Djokovic now had to hold to stay in the set.
A Murray forehand passing winner had a big serve reply followed by another and 30-15.  The Djokovic backhand down the line was not a clean winner but it deserves the same accolade if not more.  Games were 5-5 but what else would you expect from these two?

At 15-15 Andy found an ace in his back pack which worked a treat, and enabled him to find his way to 6-5.  A forehand volley winner from Andy at the net was a surprise and not a welcome one for Novak.  He responded appropriately with good serve and follow up shots to pressure Andy into mistakes until he himself blundered with a double fault.  He found some reliable tennis in his bag of tricks to move away from 30-30 and force a second tie break.

Novak began this tiebreak much better, winning both his opening two points on serve.  Then inexplicably Murray double faulted leaving the window slightly open for Djokovic.
4-2 at the change of ends with another Novak serve to come following the Murray shot wide.
A service this time which Andy could only put into the base of the net.  After a short point which Andy won, Novak claimed bragging rights after winning the long one for 6-3 and three set points, two on his own delivery.  He only needed one.  The second set to Djokovic after Murray had looked the better throughout 7-6 (7-3). One set all and this was just about to script.

The Andy Murray medical time out was not in my forecast of how the match might play out.
Wonder what that is about?

Not much at all I'd suggest and back to what really matters - the third set, and the Djokovic opener.
Except for one point where Murray capitalised after pushing Djokovic wide with an overhead winner, the top seed cruised with a couple of aces and a generally fine service game.
Although Murray had two points taken from his serve, he never appeared troubled and games were 1-1 and still no service breaks in the match.
Djokovic continued the service dominance to lead 2-1 and the ground strokes of both players also stayed in the elite class.

Both players held with ease until we reached 3-3.  Errors, the second one long from Murray, gave Djokovic 30-0 before a backhand cross court winner was a better performer for Scotland.  Djokovic threw in a backhand thriller of his own to give himself a couple of points for 4-3 and he did it thanks to an amazing (for all but Novak I guess) defensive lob.

A long rally which the players contributed at this point to enable patrons to top up with refreshments, ended with a Djokovic forehand then a sharp backhand volley forced Murray to hit wide and the third seed face 0-30.  A forehand winner set up off a great return gave Djokovic 3 break points, the first two which he wasted with poor execution.  The break did come though, courtesy of a Murray netted forehand.

5-3 to Djokovic who had just achieved the first break of serve for the match.

The next game was almost textbook - service winner, backhand down the line setting up forehand volley put away, another service winner to create three set points.  The first was used, and the defending champion won 6-3 to lead two sets to one.

Andy Murray, in trying to keep pace early in the fourth set, found it difficult as he saw another backhand winner from Djokovic pass by to take it to 0-30, but a big serve dragged a point back.  Novak's returning and retrieval were becoming an even greater concern than normal.  Fortunately Andy clipped the baseline to have it back to 30-30, and a superb volley dug him out of a small hole at deuce. 1-0.

A loose shot by Djokovic didn't make him feel too well at 0-30 but Andy gave him some first aid with 2 poor shots, one way long.  However, a second wide shot from Djokovic gave Murray a break point, fleeting though the moment was.  An uncontrolled return off a big serve saw to that.  Another great serve wasn't spoiled by a wide forehand, instead complemented by a sizzling winner from that side, and the third of a trio of timely serves elicited an illegal return and games were 1-1.

An excellent return from Djokovic had Murray sprawling and the scoreboard changing to 15-15, and the double fault made it 15-30.  Murray's pain grew with Djokovic's commanding forehand down the line winner.  A big serve save one break point but Murray clearly grimaced despite the success.  Could he be in some injury trouble?  We should soon know because Djokovic is the best player to move an opponent around the court sufficiently to test a possible injury.
The second break point was not saved after Andy netted a backhand following a searching long rally.  With the first service break of the set, Novak led 2-1 with a serve to come.

A poor drop shot attempt by Djokovic hit the top of the net and fell over for a lucky point to someone somewhere.  Following a wide backhand, the ace came in handy to stretch the advantage to 30-15.  A long forehand from Novak kept Andy interested.  Djokovic's stress left after a netted forehand and a long return from the Murray racquet.  3-1 in the fourth to Novak.

A backhand beauty down the line left Andy stranded and at 0-15.  Two Serbian backhand failures allowed Murray to retrieve the situation to 30-30 but still in bother. At 40-30 a good smash from Novak led Andy to a wild forehand and deuce.  Gaining a game point (decent serve), deuce was revisited after Djokovic tested Murray with a drop shot, but he could not keep it in play despite reaching it in time.

Another awesome defensive lob kept Djokovic in the point and  ultimately he won the exchange to have break point.  A tragic double fault left the writing clearly on the wall for all to see .  Djokovic 4-1.

Two errors and Djokovic was 0-30; not wanting to waste the luxury of a double break he hit a forehand winner for 30-30 despite missing regularly with his first serve.  When he landed one it was good and the backhand volley was put away as a consequence.  With the Murray netted ground stroke Djokovic was a game away from his fourth Aus Open.

Not worrying too much about Murray's service game, Djokovic still played a delightful deft backhand at the net and later a forehand blinder to keep in shape ready to serve for the title at 5-2.

Losing the first two points due to the efforts of Andy Murray - the backhand for 0-30 was sublime - Djokovic steadied and with the first championship point Murray found the net with his backhand.

Novak Djokovic had won his fourth Australian Open 6-7 (2-7) 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 6-2 and become the first male player in the Open Era to win it three times in succession.

The world number one undoubtedly is that with exclamation marks added, while Andy Murray and he will continue to battle in finals at the highest level.  Tonight was not quite right for Andy but the gap between his and Novak's respective best tennis has reduced markedly in the past 18 months.

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