By Ros Satar at the ATP World Tour Finals, London

  • Andy Murray [1] v Novak Djokovic [2]
  • Head to head: Djokovic leads 24-10
  • Year end No. 1 ranking is on the line for the first time in ATP history
LONDON, ENGLAND – Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic will go head to head to decide the season-end finale, and the year-ending World No. 1 ranking.

 

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Andy Murray [1] v Novak Djokovic [2] – H2H: Djokovic leads 24-10

Talk about a year of two halves. Novak Djokovic continued the dominance he has shown at the top of the game for the last few years by coasting through the year where almost everything he touched turned to trophies. Starting with Doha and an almost embarrassing beat down of Rafael Nadal in the final, he beat Andy Murray again at the Australian Open.

A blip of an eye infection caused him to retire in Dubai but he was in form in the brief but important hard court spring, doing the Indian Wells and Miami double. He suffered a surprise exit in the opening round of Monte Carlo but came back strong, winning Miami and losing to Murray in Rome but the real prize was Roland Garros. He achieved a career Slam and with that win also held all four Slams at the same time. Take nothing away from Djokovic. The first half of the year belonged to him.

The gilt lost its lustre though – personal issues reported at the time of his Wimbledon third round loss and a troublesome elbow injury left his momentum stalled, save for the Toronto title in the run up to the Rio Olympics. Despite the fact there were no points awarded for the Olympics, the prestige of being able to go for an elusive Gold medal met with the stubborn resistance once more of Juan Martin Del Potro – who eventually finished the runner up. The balance was almost redressed at the US Open, but an inspired Stan Wawrinka would thwart Djokovic in a Slam for a second time in a row.

Injury forced him out of Beijing and his return in Shanghai came to an end at the semi-finals, with the quarter-finals his exit point in Paris. Arriving in London, despite his statements in tournaments his normally amiable approach to press conferences seemed terse and defensive.

Surely all those pressures will ease away after the ease of his win over Kei Nishikori in the semi-final? It is not as though he has not been tested here. Milos Raonic pushed him possibly as close as the Canadian as come to beat him, and Dominic Thiem forced him to come from a set down in the round-robin stages, but he has played himself into the form we have come to expect.

And what of the incumbent No. 1? Remember this had never been his goal for this year, and following the birth of his daughter earlier this year, Murray was finely poised to make a run for the top spot in the early part of next year.

There are shades of the mad chase of 2014 when Murray played in every tournament imaginable short of doubles in the park to make the World Tour Finals only to be utterly spent.

His run since the Roland Garros final saw him do the Queen’s Club and Wimbledon double, he notched up his own impressive piece of history becoming the first player to successfully defend an Olympic Tennis title, and despite a US Open quarter-final and the Davis Cup semi-final to his name, it was the manner of his wins coming up to this point that have been so impressive – Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna, Paris and now into his first season-ending final.

But at what cost? He has been on court longer than anyone, twice breaking the record for the longest best-of-three match at the ATP World Tour Finals since records started.

Well actually, it is not unusual for Murray to take the circuitous route. Long drawn out matches lend themselves to his natural counter-punching ability – he is renowned as one of the fittest men on the tour, with a great degree of variety and shot-making smarts.

The key here is that Djokovic is undoubtedly on fresher legs. He will want to grind the Brit down, dictating points from the baseline – and in general engaging in bruising rallies with Djokovic never bodes well for most players.

With Ivan Lendl back in his corner, Murray has found a new boost of confidence, along with the combination of long time friend Jamie Delgado. What he needs to do though is maybe harness the aggressive play Lendl worked to introduce the first time around in their partnership.

Conserving energy early in the set is very important for Murray to give himself the best chance of hanging toe-to-toe with Djokovic. He will know that the Brit is fatigued and he will have no mercy. But as Murray mouthed (expletives notwithstanding) – he demonstrated the heart and fight he has, and whereas in the past he has been too passive at the start of matches with Djokovic, he has to come out all guns blazing.

It is doable, but it will take everything he has left to get the win.

Prediction: Murray in three sets.

 

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