What haunts Murray's mind ahead of his AO 2016 title clash…

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“Is this a rivalry wrapped up in a friendship or just a rivalry wrapped up in an intense rivalry?”

 

  • Emotions when facing a friend:

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For much of their lives, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have been the best of friends. Born in May 1987, they met when they were just 12 and came up through the junior ranks together. They’ve practised together, played doubles alongside each other.

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All of us know that it’s hardest to keep a straight face when you’re competing against a long time friend in any sport. Although, both players have been extremely professional in their rivalry, it has always been Murray who loses his cool first and ends up underperforming as a result.

Murray is an emotional person and how he handles his inner self will be his biggest concern.

  • Murray’s lopsided H2H against Djokovic

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One wonders why the H2H is 21-9 in Djokovic’s favour, although they have very identical playing styles.

We’ve played a lot in the last couple of years. Last year here is a good match for me to look at because the tennis, in my opinion, wasn’t miles apart. It was a very close match for three sets [7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-0]. Same thing in Miami when we played there [7-6(3), 4-6, 6-0]. A couple sets were very tight. French Open was close, as well [6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 5-7, 6-1]. I managed to get the win in Canada in another very close match [6-4, 4-6, 6-3]. The most important thing for me is to sustain my level for long enough, not just for one set here or there, a few games here or there. I need to do it for a very long period if I want to get the win. That’s my challenge on Sunday.

  • Consistency in the face of consistency

Djokovic and Murray are both players who rely on their consistency to get through their matches. Very rarely, if ever, do you see either player completely outplayed in any of their matches. However, when it comes to clashes between the two, Djokovic has proven time and again that he’s the epitome of consistency with his overall solid performances.

Andy Murray in action against Ivan Dodig

  • Serve & Return of serve

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This is always the determining factor in most tennis matches played out today, and in all of the sport, you’ll never find a pairing of two players with remarkable returns when compared to this dynamic duo.

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While Murray has an aggressive return of 2nd serve stepping inside the baseline to take time away from the server, whereas Djokovic prefers to stay on the baseline for both serves and instead focuses on depth and placement of returns. Recent history has shown that the Djokovic approach is more effective, especially against taller servers like Murray.

Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, returns a shot to Victor Hanescu, of Romania, during their match at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament, Sunday, March 9, 2014, in Indian Wells, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

This has been one of the traditional handicaps for Murray against Djokovic and it’ll definitely affect his thought-process when hitting 2nd serves on big points.

Djokovic has much better 1st and 2nd deliveries with plenty of pace and spin, making it tough for Murray to dominate.

  • Struggles against quality opposition

Murray is the current World No.2 because he was 2nd best to Djokovic last year in terms of consistency and ranking points. But what’s surprising about Murray’s 2015 is that he went 5-9 against Top 5 opposition. In simpler terms, Murray failed to perform well when pitted against the world’s finest.

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Murray has failed to beat Federer and Djokovic in any of their encounters in their recent past and this will definitely be a psychological disadvantage when going up against the World No.1 on a big occasion.

  • Battle of the backhands

These two have the best 2-handed backhands on the tour but Djokovic has managed to achieve a chokehold in this department as well. A 2-handed backhand doesn’t get any better than Djokovic’s and this means any potential advantage for Murray against other opponents is nullified when playing Djokovic.

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  • Djokovic’s home away from home and Murray’s nightmare

This is Djokovic’s 6th Australian Open final and the world No.1 is five for five winning against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2008, Murray in 2011, 2013 and 2015 and Rafael Nadal in 2012. Djokovic loves this tournament, where the conditions are ideally suited to his wear-you-down, beat-you-up tennis. Though Stan Wawrinka managed to beat him in 2014, Djokovic’s aura in Melbourne is starting to resemble Federer at Wimbledon and Nadal at Roland Garros.

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In summary, everything about Djokovic and his game will haunt Murray, and he needs to overcome his demons if he wants to have a shot at the Australian Open 2016 title.


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