January 25, 2013 — This year’s Australian Open has seen surprise runs, intense five-set battles involving the top three, and of course, controversy. But with the final stage of the men’s singles draw about to commence, it’s time to take a look at who is most likely to win the season’s first Slam.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is guaranteed to keep his top ranking next week and is further looking for his third-straight Australian Open title, having also previously won it in 2008. His road to the final included routine wins over Paul-Henri Mathieu, Ryan Harrison, and Radek Stepanek in straight sets in the early rounds, and his quarterfinal encounter against Tomas Berdych was never really in doubt, handing the world No. 8 two 6-1 sets. He made quick work of a (possibly) labored David Ferrer in the semifinals and it was mostly smooth sailing for Djokovic with the exception of his fourth round five-set five-hour encounter with Stanislas Wawrinka who really tested the Serb. In the end, experience prevailed over adrenaline and Djokovic squeezed through the win.
Andy Murray, on the other hand, crept quietly threw the draw, never even having played on Rod Laver Arena until his semifinal match up with Roger Federer. Having just won his first Slam at the US Open last September, some questioned whether he would not only be able to win the Australian Open, but even reach the final. But with his improved mental and physical game, the Scot came out in full force. He dispatched of his first five opponents in straight sets (Robin Haase, Joao Sousa, Ricardas Berankis, Gilles Simon and Jeremy Chardy) before finally outplaying Federer in a five-setter last night. The Scot has been playing more aggressively and it was none more evident than against Federer.
So the question remains: Who will walk away victorious come Sunday night, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray?
Our team gives their insight:
Each men’s semifinal result, when looked at individually, would be sufficient to predict its winner would go on to take the title. On one half, Djokovic put on another master class, capping yet another dominating performance Down Under with a decisive victory over David Ferrer. On the other, Murray broke through to beat Roger Federer at a Slam, boasting impeccable numbers in the process. Playing any other man, Djokovic or Murray would be heavy favorites. Playing each other, it’s a clash of the titans. Given Djokovic’s past performances here and longer recovery time, the slight edge goes to the Serb, but Murray is on quite a run at the tournament’s biggest stages, and would like nothing more than to assert himself as the best player on tour, if not the “real number one.”
Prediction: Djokovic in 5
Both finalists have shown some of their best tennis in the more recent rounds, so a five-setter would not be without question. In fact, it’s almost expected when these two play each other. Each has battled through their respective “demons” on court in the form of Wawrinka for Djokovic and Federer for Murray, but Murray has looked the stronger player through the entirety of the tournament. He has really emerged from his shell and grown in confidence now that the proverbial gorilla (winning a Slam, finally) is off his back. He may not lead the head-to-head record against the Serb, but he also had never beaten Federer before at a Slam — and looked what happened last night. If Murray comes out swinging freely on his forehand again, while keeping his backhand and first serve percentage up, there’s nothing that could stop him.
Prediction: Murray in 5
Djokovic always has played his best tennis in Australia, and his semifinal victory over Ferrer was a masterpiece of the controlled aggression that works so well on this medium-speed surface. That nearly flawless effort suggested that he is peaking at the right time. Meanwhile, Murray is riding his own wave of momentum after defeating Federer. The Scot’s serving in that match was stunning, but he’ll get a sterner test from Djokovic’s return. The two men have similar styles and weapons, so it will come down to execution and confidence. Djokovic’s highs and lows (not Murray’s) have defined most of their meetings so far for better or worse. He’s on a high here.
Prediction: Djokovic in 4
Experts and betting markets alike were almost unanimous in installing Novak Djokovic as the favorite to win this tournament weeks before the tournament started, and only an inspired Stanislas Wawrinka has given us any reason to doubt that prediction. With only one match remaining, and no Wawrinka in sight, I can’t see any reason to change my initial prediction of a Djokovic title.
Form can, of course, change from match to match, even for the top players, but the Serb’s performance against a decidedly sub-par David Ferrer was overwhelming in its completeness. Andy Murray naturally had a far rougher time in his semifinal, seeing off Roger Federer in five sets. I don’t think that match will inhibit the Scot physically, but nor do I think it will act as useful preparation. I predict Djokovic to win. I’ll resist the strong urge to pick four sets, and say (brazenly) that he’ll do it in three.
Prediction: Djokovic in 3
So its official, the two fittest players in the men’s draw are playing in the final. With Rafa away the Novak Murray rivalry could well turn into the sports headline act. The last 3 times these players met the result went the distance with Novak claiming victory the last two times. Still, there is something about this new Murray in slams, compounded by the Lendl connection and the extra fight for friend Ross Hutchins who is battling cancer that gives Murray an edge that cannot be measured.
Prediction: Murray in 4