The 2011 Australian Open Men’s Singles Final will be played this Sunday January 30 at 7:30pm between No.3 seed Novak Djokovic and No.5 seed Andy Murray. The 99th Men’s Singles Final will be played in front of a sell-out crowd on the Rod Laver Arena in the heart of Melbourne. Make sure you cast your eye on these two players as they set the court alight and fill you hearts with a heightened love of the game.
This is THE match that will either make the distinction between these two close rivals OR prove how amazingly even they are. It seems as though the universe has conspired to showcase what, on paper, appears to be the most even match up in memory for a Men’s Grand Slam final, it has a 5-set emotional roller coaster written all over it.
Do not forget this match up came perilously close to not occurring at all. Murray was only one point away from being down two sets-to-love in his semi final when David Ferrer held a set point at 5-4 in the 2nd set. IF Murray becomes the first man from Great Britain to win a Grand Slam singles title, he will be the first in 75 years and would match Djokovic’s one Grand Slam victory. A win for Murray would also square the ledger in their head-to-head matches at 4-all.
Murray has won their last three matches in a row, all on hard courts and all in straight sets. Would you believe that Djokovic won the three matches before that in a row and all in straight sets? Their last match was played 22 months ago in the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Final in Miami. In fact all seven of their matches have been in Masters 1000 tournaments. Both players used the 2011 Hopman Cup as their only lead-in event to prepare for the Australian Open.
They have never played against each other in a Grand Slam singles event. Unfortunately they have not met as frequently as you would expect two of the greatest players in the game usually would. This is largely due to them both being ranked in the Top 4 over the past few years, which means they are practically always on opposite sides of the draw. Another major barrier for them facing off is the fact they BOTH need to beat either Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer at the same tournament to meet in the final.
Murray is one week older than Djokovic with both players being 23-years-old. Both players have been a runner-up twice in Grand Slam singles finals and will be playing their second Australian Open final. If Murray wins they would both have won one Grand Slam singles title and both be Australian Open champions. Both players are right-handers and use a double-handed backhand. Both players use HEAD YouTek tennis racquets and achieved a career high ranking of No.2
Djokovic uses the HEAD YouTek IG Speed MP 18 x 20 model racquet and Murray uses the HEAD YouTek Radical Pro. Both players have lost to Roger Federer in a Grand Slam singles final and have played all their Slam finals on hard courts and all at the Australian and US Opens. The playing style of both players is also very similar with an equal ability to cover the court so effectively; both heavily favour using ground strokes, have rock steady backhands, powerful forehands and possess every shot in the book.
Both players can play very aggressively when they chose to, are extremely good in defending, are patient whilst probing for opportunities to gain an advantage, have powerful serves though can struggle with their first serve percentage and have turbulent mental state fluctuations. In fact the only significant difference between them leading into this match may very well be THE critical factor in determining the winner.
Djokovic has the advantage of having won a Grand Slam singles title already and at the Australian Open. He has proven he can master the multitude of pressures from himself, his expectations, his country and the enormity of the opportunity and occasion. Djokovic has another edge on Murray through the experience and success of shouldering the load in leading Serbia to its first Davis Cup title in December 2010 in front of his home crowd’s huge expectations.
Murray was so weighed down by the pressure last year that he couldn’t play near his best. As soon as he went down two-sets-to-love he must have felt like nobody would expect him to beat Federer from there. From this point on his slow movements, conservative play, defensiveness and erratic 1st serve were gone. Murray played great tennis, had more opportunities to win the 3rd set and was very unlucky to lose in a tiebreak by 13 points to 11.
The player who can release their mind from the pressure, expectation, tension and self-doubt at the key moments will prevail. The area of the game where these crippling effects take hold the most is during the service motion. This is because the critical aspects of a player being able to serve towards his best are high confidence, relaxation, looseness and fluidity. The situations in the match that can be severely affected are serving for a set, during a tiebreak and serving for the championship. Really look for drama and the display of true championship qualities at these critical junctures.
In Djokovic’s pre-final interview he spoke of the difficulty of winning your first Grand Slam singles title. Djokovic said, “Trying to fight for a first title. You know, it was big pressure. Obviously you feel that. You feel the expectations. You feel that you’re right there; you just need to make that final step”. Interestingly he added, “I feel that I’m more experienced. Definitely winning a Grand Slam title here a couple years back, having that for tomorrow’s final, it’s maybe a little bit of the mental advantage”.
It certainly will not be a case of third time lucky for the Scot. If he can meet the challenge of performing at a high enough level and conquering the demons to eventually hold the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup aloft he will truly deserve it. Murray is looking to become the 26th different man to win the Australian Open in the Open era.
In Murray’s pre-final interview he spoke of his aims to learn from last year’s final, his desire to win, the expectations and pressures when he said, “I also don’t want to sort of get myself so amped up that, you know, I play a stinker of a match. I think if you go in thinking like, Yeah, no one’s won for 60 years, I might never get another chance. I’m going to make the most of the opportunity, for sure. I’ll give 110%. But, you know, I also need to make sure I’m relaxed and calm on the court. I don’t want to get myself sort of too worked up.”
The 1.9m Murray and the 1.88m Djokovic combined have defeated Nadal and Federer 26 times and seem to be hitting their prime at the same time. If somebody measured them again I’m sure they would now be the same height! Djokovic has performed better thus far, especially in beating both Federer in the semis and World No.6 Tomas Berdych in straight sets in his last two matches. Yet, it is all about who can perform on finals day. Right now it is Murray and Djokovic time, it’s their turn to shine. I, for one, cannot wait until its SHOWTIME.
Stay tuned to this tennis website for full coverage of every Grand Slam tournament and every major women’s and men’s tennis tournament on the WTA Tour and ATP Tours. Click this link for further details about the Australian Open -> Australian Open 2011: January 12-30.
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© photo credit: Philip Ip