• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Murray's new belief in a grand plan

The common consensus in Melbourne is that when Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic walk out on to the Rod Laver Arena today, the Serb will be the favourite.

Andy Murray's victory in the US Open has seen him firmly established as a member of tennis' ruling aristocracy    Photograph: Reuters
Andy Murray's victory in the US Open has seen him firmly established as a member of tennis' ruling aristocracy Photograph: Reuters

The luck of the draw means the world No 1 has had an extra day off over Murray, whose five-set victory against Roger Federer in the semi-finals was played on Friday night.

However, ask Murray's coach, Ivan Lendl, if Djokovic has an advantage and you get a very different answer. "Not at the age both guys are and the fitness they have," the former world No 1-turned coaching guru said yesterday.

Logic would suggest that Djokovic should be the fresher, not least because of that surplus rest day but also because he hammered David Ferrer so quickly in his semi-final on Thursday, expending far less energy than Murray. But in four of the past five years here, the man playing the second semi-final has actually won the title – including Djokovic over Murray in 2011.

And Lendl believes the way Murray stormed through to the last four without dropping a set means that, providing he has recovered as well as possible, he should have a good chance to repeat last year's momentous US Open win over a player he has known since they were both in their early teens.

"It was great that he didn't dawdle around in the matches when he was in control and finished them," Lendl said. "Most likely it can only help. Some players need a tough match early, some need a tough match before the final, some don't need a tough match. So you just have to deal with the cards you have.

"The good point against Federer was that Andy's fitness came through and carried him through the fifth set. I think it was apparent that he was fitter in the fifth set than Roger and that's why that set was relatively, using that word loosely, relatively easy."

In Lendl's mind, then, Murray goes into today's final against his long-time friend and rival with a serious chance of making history by become the first man in the Open era to follow their first Grand Slam title by immediately winning a second.

Murray is already the first Briton since Fred Perry in the 1930s to reach three straight Grand Slam finals. The Scot lost to Federer at Wimbledon last year before beating Djokovic for his first major crown, a run he's understandably proud of.

"I think it's probably my best achievement," Murray said yesterday. "I know how hard it is to get to the latter stages of Grand Slams so with the level of competition that is there just now, it's one of my better achievements."

This will be Murray's sixth Grand Slam final and he has now made the last four or better at 10 of the past 13 majors and eight of the past nine. If it wasn't for the feats of Federer, Rafa Nadal and Djokovic over the past few years, it would be hailed as a phenomenal record.

It is still hugely impressive, but it was winning the gold medal at the Olympics in London and then the win over Djokovic in New York that changed everything for Murray. Finally, he really, truly, believed in himself.

"That's the thing that changes from winning big matches; you get used to it and have that extra bit of belief each time you go on the court," he said.

"What Novak did a couple of years ago set the bar and what Roger and Rafa were doing for five or six years always set the standard. It's been up to everyone else to catch up and I think I've done a good job for the last year or so.

"My results over the past year suggest I have played some of my best tennis in the bigger matches at the slams and the Olympics. That's all you can do. Obviously you're not going to win all of them but more often than not, I'm now giving myself chances to win these events every time I play them."

The wear and tear on players' bodies these days means that many of them take painkillers towards the end of a Grand Slam, when limbs start to ache more than ever.

Murray, who also won the warm-up event in Brisbane this month, is on anti-inflammatories but said even though his body was sore, his mind was fresh.

"The last few months have been the best of my career," he said. "Provided I can recover and get myself as healthy as possible, it should be a good match."

Djokovic, meanwhile, has been enjoying his extra time off before the final, finding time to welcome Maria Sharapova to Twitter and generally just relaxing as he prepares to try to become the first man to win three straight Australian Opens in modern times.

Three of his five Grand Slam titles have come in Melbourne, where conditions obviously suit his game and where things just seem to fall into place.

"It's my most successful Grand Slam," the top seed said yesterday. "Being in a third consecutive final here is an incredible feeling and achievement, so I am very proud of it. It's the first big tournament of the year and we had a little bit longer off season, which gave us more time to recharge our batteries, to work on some things, to get ready."

Having survived a marathon five-setter against Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round, Djokovic was at his very best in the semi-finals when he blitzed world No 5 Ferrer with the loss of just five games.

His form is not in doubt and nor, it seems, is his memory or his sense of humour. Asked if he could remember what Murray was like when they first met as juniors, he smiled and said: "Well, I know he had a lot of hair, a lot of curly hair. He was quite pale also. But he got more sun I think over the years training in Barcelona. He has more of a tan now than when he was a junior."

A better tan and a belief that he can beat Djokovic in a Grand Slam final because he has already done it. We will soon know if he can do it again.

Contextual targeting label: 
Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

137488