Australian Open final: Djokovic vs. Murray preview and pick

Another installment of arguably the best current rivalry in tennis will take place on Sunday in Melbourne. Novak Djokovic is seeking his fourth career Australian Open title, with familiar foe Andy Murray on the other side of the net.
Djoker Murray

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will be colliding for the 18th time in their careers when they do battle in the Australian Open final on Sunday night.

They have faced each other on three previous occasions at Grand Slams, including twice at the Australian Open and once in the Aussie Open final. Djokovic dominated the 2011 title match 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 and he survived an epic semifinal last season by a 6-3, 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-1, 7-5 scoreline. Murray answered with a 7-6(10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 triumph to win the U.S. Open.

Overall, Djokovic is out front in the head-to-head series 10-7–including 8-6 on hard courts. The tide swung back in his favor last fall when the Serb prevailed over Murray in Shanghai and at the World Tour Finals.

Djokovic and Murray were unquestionably last year’s two best players post-Wimbledon (where Roger Federer beat Murray for the championship) and the trend has continued Down Under. The world No. 1 has been especially impressive. He has surrendered only three sets this fortnight, two at the hands of an on-fire Stanislas Wawrinka in a memorable fourth-round showdown. Djokovic also dismissed Paul-Henri Mathieu, Ryan Harrison, Radek Stepanek, Tomas Berdych (in four), and David Ferrer (6-2, 6-2, 6-1).

Djokovic-Wawrinka highlights:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8SjG6mjVOA]

Djokovic-Ferrer highlights:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrCRn9yAQ1s]

Both men have benefited from favorable draws, especially Murray in the early rounds. The third-ranked Scot cruised past Robin Haase, Joao Sousa, Ricardas Berankis, Gilles Simon, and Jeremy Chardy en route to the semifinals. In a Friday night showdown, Murray outlasted Roger Federer 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-2.

Murray-Federer highlights:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=F5kzxtx2ntk]

“The task isn’t any easier,” Murray said afterward, referring to Djokovic. “I’ll obviously have to play my best again to win. This has been his best court for sure. So I’m aware of how tough it will be to win the match…. Just try your best to be in the best possible condition for Sunday. Realistically, you’re probably not going to feel perfect because of how the match went tonight, but it’s not to say you can’t recover well enough to play your best tennis.

“Every time we play each other it’s normally a very physical match. I’ll need to be ready for the pain. I hope it’s a painful match; that means it will be a good one.”

Speaking of pain, Melbourne’s No. 3 seed needed exactly four hours to get past Federer–whereas Djokovic decimated Ferrer in a mere one hour and 29 minutes. That won’t help Murray, but by no means does it seal a losing fate. We have seen the top four players in the world make far more impressive recoveries, many of which have come at the Australian Open.

Djokovic won’t be required to make any kind of recovery; certainly not one like last year in Melbourne. After outlasting Murray, the Serb bounced back two days later and beat Rafael Nadal in a thrilling final that lasted five hours and 56 minutes.

“I definitely prefer being fitter for the final and having a little bit more time than I had in 2012,” Djokovic assured. “It’s quite different circumstances that I have to face this time.  You know, last year I played five hours in semis and had only a day and a half to recover for another six hours with Nadal. This year it hasn’t been the case, and I’m very glad.”

Because of his dominant form, past success Down Under, and a fuel tank that is fuller than full, Djokovic has the edge.

Pick: Djokovic in 4.

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