Rome Final Preview Why Tennis Needs Andy Murray to Defeat Novak Djokovic

Rome Djokovic Murray

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The Rome final features top seed Novak Djokovic versus second seeded Andy Murray in their third final of the season. The Tennis Review looks ahead to a match men’s tennis really needs Andy Murray to win, and which he is in a privileged position to do so. 

Here we are again- an ATP 1000 match, at the business end of the event, and world No.1 Novak Djokovic is taking on Andy Murray, currently ranked No.2.

The contest, on the one hand, is what the Rome organizers will have hoped for- the two best players in the draw, two Marquee names, too, going head to head.

Tennis fans, neutrals especially, will not have hoped for this match up, however. After all, here we are again, and the destination is a little too predictable for tennis fans who like their contests to be just that.

Since the 2014 Miami Open quarter-finals, Novak Djokovic has beaten Andy Murray in 12 of their 13 matches, and 7 of those wins have come in ATP 1000 events, 5 of those in straight sets.

Most recently, in Madrid, Murray managed to take Djokovic to a third set, but was not able to make much of matters when he got there, trailing 3-5 before he fought hard in a 13 minute game he had seven break points to win, but which he ended up losing.

Andy Murray losing the big points to Novak Djokovic in a big match, the kind of matches casual fans tune in to, is the stuff ATP matches are made of, it seems.

There is of course, another point of view- Novak Djokovic playing his best tennis on the big points is what ATP 1000 matches are about.

Neither, however, is ideal- ‘the outcome of Novak Djokovic versus Andy Murray matches in ATP events is always in doubt until the final point‘ would be much better.

Actually, that was the scenario for a while. Back before Miami 2014, the head to head, now 23-9 in Djokovic’s favor, was 11-8 for the Serb. Murray had plenty of wins in big matches versus his old friend- 3 ATP 1000 finals and 2 Grand Slam final wins no less.

That was before Murray’s back injury, which hit him after Wimbledon 2013 when he was the reigning champion at two slams, and before Djokovic hired Boris Becker and went from being a serial slam runner up to a prolific winner.

Murray’s injury, however, has been healed a while now– he has risen back to world No.2 since his injury- affected 2014, made two slam finals, added a Clay ATP 1000 title to his resume, and he has beaten Djokovic, too, in the 2015 Montreal final, in three sets.

That Montreal win certainly lifted the tennis world excitement-wise. Djokovic’s dominance of the ATP since Beijing 2014 was a testament to the Serb’s talent and hard work, but it was not a spectacle for the neutral tennis fan, or to fans of Djokovic’s rivals.

From Beijing 2014 until Montreal, Djokovic had won two slams, the WTF, 5 ATP 1000s and Beijing, and suffered just four losses. Murray’s Montreal win injected some much needed unpredictability into things.

The win was not entirely shocking, however. Montreal suits Murray’s game more than it does Djokovic’s, playing slightly faster than other ATP hard courts and rewarding Murray’s greater counter-punching ability.

Faster surfaces, however, are few and far between on the ATP tour, and that is part of Murray’s problem- the majority of the ATP courts are a better fit for Djokovic who is just that bit better than Murray when it comes to their shared strengths- the backhand, their return of serves, their athleticism- and a whole lot better regarding their  common weaknesses- the serve, the forehand, and most crucially the mind. Decisive factors which tends to work in Djokovic’s favor on the big points when he and Murray meet to decide the big titles.

Since that Montreal loss to Murray, Djokovic has gone on to add to his ever-growing title collection- two more slams, another five ATP 1000 titles, another WTF, on surfaces he has tailor-made his game for, and even on those surfaces that are not the perfect fit. Madrid, for example, faster than most clay courts due to the higher altitude, should have favored Murray, but, as that final game showed, Djokovic’s mind can beat anyone, anywhere, whatever the surface (Cincinnati the only exception to this tennis rule).

Unfortunately for Murray, just when tennis needs him most, Rome also works better for Djokovic than it does for the world No.3- the world No.1 is  a four time champion at the Foro Italico while Murray will play his first final in nine attempts.

Even factors which should favor Murray in most circumstances may not against Djokovic. Murray will go into his first Rome final the fresher of the two- his semi-final saw him drop just three games to lucky loser Lucas Pouille while Djokovic endured an ankle injury and survived some sublime shot-making from Kei Nishikori to win his match 7-6 in the third late into the night.

Watch highlights of Djokovic-Murray in the 2011 Rome semis below.

Being fresher in the final will not help Murray out too much against Djokovic, however. The world No.1 has the best stamina levels in the business and is likely to turn up as fresh as Murray. The Serb’s tough draw may also work to his advantage, too, leaving him the more battle hardy of the two. You have to feel for Murray at times- he simply cannot win against a rival as capable of working adversity in his favor as the Serb.

In the Rome final, Murray will have to face the biggest adversity in his career right now, the one standing between him and a first Rome title-Djokovic. We know he has the potential to overcome it, that he is no pushover on slow clay courts, especially in Rome. The Scot took Djokovic to a final set tiebreak in the 2011 semis, and Nadal to 7-5 in the third in the 2014 last four. Only recently, he had the better of Nadal in the Monte Carlo semis for a set and a half, and at last year’s Roland Garros, he went to five sets with Djokovic in the semis.The big question the Scot has to answer if he is to finally win his first slow clay court ATP 1000 trophy is this- does Murray believe?

Tennis fans tuning in to Rome will not just hope Murray believes- they will expect him to.

The world No.3 and second seed benefited from the kind of draw such status can earn you and of which you dream of, and while the final is the type of nightmare to scare most of the ATP away, it should not scare Murray.

Facing Djokovic in the Rome final should not inhibit a tennis player who has beaten Djokovic in slam and ATP 1000 finals, has worked his way back to world No.2 from career threatening injuries, and who has the dreams of many a tennis fan- of engaging in a sporting event of which the outcome is in doubt until the final second-on his very capable racket.

That’s a lot of pressure, but pressure, as Billie Jean King said, is a privilege, and Andy Murray should feel very privileged indeed.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.

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