The man is an international treasure
Open era history will be made on Sunday night. Either Novak Djokovic will equal Andre Agassi and Roger Federer in winning four Australian Open titles, or Andy Murray will become the first man to back up his first Grand Slam title with the one immediately afterwards.
Both players are 1-1 in Grand Slam finals, but Djokovic has the edge 2-1 in Grand Slam matches (Djokovic won their only other meeting at last year’s Australian Open semi-finals). Djokovic also leads the head-to-head overall, 10-7.
Based on these statistics, you’d expect Djokovic to win easily, but Murray shouldn’t be taken lightly, given his form so far this year.
Both players have had relatively easy runs to the final, however both were pushed to five sets by Switzerland’s top two players: Djokovic was forced into five sets by Stanislas Wawrinka, while Andy Murray had his work cut out against Roger Federer.
Murray had the easier run into the business end though, not dropping a set prior to the semi-final against Roger Federer, while Djokovic was tested by Tomas Berdych in the final eight, before destroying David Ferrer in the final four.
Murray’s victory over Federer now means the ATP’s ‘big four’ (Federer, Rafael Nadal, Djokovic and Murray) have now all beaten each other at the Grand Slams.
Last year, each of the four won what appeared to be, historically, their best Grand Slam (Djokovic winning the Australian Open, Nadal the French, Federer Wimbledon and Murray the US Open).
Additionally, all four have an Olympic Medal around their necks (Murray and Nadal gold, Federer silver and Djokovic bronze).
Retaining the Australian Open title for three years in a row has been elusive in the Open era, whereas it has been achieved at the other three Grand Slams.
Rafael Nadal was able to keep his French Open title every year since 2005, except in 2009. Roger Federer was able to defend his Wimbledon (2004-2007) and US Open (2005-2008) titles for a lengthy period of time as well.
Now, Novak Djokovic can become the first man since Roy Emerson in the late 1960s to retain his Australian Open title for three years in a row.
Though he will be risking 800 rankings points, he won’t be overtaken at World no. 1 if he is defeated. For Andy Murray, winning the title would see him close in on Roger Federer at no. 2.
For Murray to win the title, he can look back at a couple of things. Last year, Novak Djokovic won in a five-set final against Rafael Nadal, after defeating Murray in a five-set semi-final.
Nadal won a five-set final over Federer in 2009 after defeating Fernando Verdasco in a five-set semi-final. Marat Safin beat Lleyton Hewitt in a four-set final in 2005 after defeating Roger Federer in the semi-finals, saving match points in the process.
Additionally, Safin won the Australian Open title on his third attempt, after losses in 2002 and 2004. Murray is now in the same position to emulate his predecessors in both winning the title after winning a five-set semi-final, and on his third attempt in Australia.
Murray will surely have the momentum, having won last year’s US Open and being barely forced to raise a sweat until the semi-final against Roger Federer, which went for exactly four hours.
This will be the 18th meeting between the pair, and the third in a Grand Slam final. Novak Djokovic won their first Grand Slam meeting easily, in the final of the Australian Open two years ago, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Given that both players have improved their form since, don’t expect a repeat result.
Murray was able to turn the tables on Djokovic at the US Open last year, prevailing in a classic five-set final which went for almost five hours. Their only Grand Slam meeting that was not a final was at last year’s Australian Open semi-final, when Djokovic prevailed in five sets.
Both Djokovic and Murray have had solid starts to the season, however Djokovic hit a hurdle at the Hopman Cup when he was upset by Australia’s Bernard Tomic. Murray has had a hot start to the year, retaining his Brisbane title and now he will attempt to become the first man in Open era history to follow up a maiden Grand Slam title with a second immediately after.
What’s also interesting is that if Victoria Azarenka prevails tonight, and Novak Djokovic tomorrow night, it would be the first Grand Slam tournament since Wimbledon 2010 in which both the World no. 1s prevailed in the same Grand Slam tournament (Rafael Nadal was the second seed at the time), and the first since the 2010 Australian Open in which both the top seeds won the same tournament.
History will be made on Sunday night? Who will prevail? I’m predicting Novak Djokovic in five sets.