ASIDE from hoping the Australian Open gets a real classic of a men’s final after two weeks during which the integrity of the sport has been repeatedly questioned, I want to see Andy Murray get the title his talent and commitment deserves.
Saying it’s not going to be easy is a bit like saying Murray faces a long journey home afterwards. Any encounter with Novak Djokovic in this form and state of mind is the most challenging task any sportsman could face. Melbourne Park’s Rod Laver Arena has become his favourite place of work.
However, I will go against public opinion and say Murray has an extremely good shot of collecting his third Grand Slam title and first since beating Djokovic at Wimbledon in 2013. Why? Because of marked improvements in his game after finally addressing glaring deficiencies, and because he is not playing with the kind of pressure he’s put on himself in past years after adopting the mindset throughout the tournament that if he loses, it can be a good thing because he will go home earlier to be with his wife as they await their first child.
Then there is the Davis Cup. Murray, inset, had to be tougher than most in the way he led Britain from the front and never once faltered. He became a more complete, confident, steely competitor when that precise lob hit the spot to spark the celebrations in Ghent last November. It has stood him in good stead for what has been the most arduous Aussie Open he’s ever known.
I don’t care that he didn’t have to play a single top 10 player during Britain’s march to the Davis Cup. He had to carry the strain of the entire team, finish off ties in the knowledge that matches would hang in the balance if they went to a deciding fifth rubber and, for three ties, shoulder the responsibility of playing singles and doubles. Believe me, that can only help make you a tougher, more robust player.
And with Djokovic playing the kind of tennis he showed in his semi-final against Roger Federer, Murray must be focused, prepared and not selfdestructive. But I think that is a lesson he’s learnt and although you will never stop the complaints and grumbles to his back-up team, it is only a release mechanism. Yes, of course, too much negative stuff gets anybody down. It wastes energy and affects concentration.
Previously when Murray has come down here, he’s just had tennis to occupy his mind. The situation at home, with the knowledge that his wife, Kim, could go into labour at any minute, and the shock of his father-inlaw, Nigel Sears, being rushed into hospital after suffering some kind of serious cardiac problem in the stands while coaching Ana Ivanovic, have been tough on him. Whatever hurts you ultimately makes you stronger and that’s true of Murray this fortnight. Of course it would be so easy to simply say this is Djokovic’s title for the sixth time but so much of this final is going to be played in the minds of the two players. However, Murray is technically a better player than this time last year when he allowed an early upper hand in the final against Djokovic to disappear. Murray’s second serve was always his glaring weakness. He thought he could get away with curling the ball into play and take control of extended rallies with his variety from the baseline and great powers of defence. Finally he has realised that’s not good enough and during the offseason, he’s put a lot more pace and bite on that second delivery.
He’s just realised you have to be the aggressor on first and second balls and by putting something like an extra 10mph and more kick on the second serve, Murray has overcome the problem. Djokovic will have noticed it, and his coach Boris Becker is too experienced in big-time matches not to have worked out some counter tactics, but Murray possesses the variety to cause new problems.
I don’t subscribe to the view Djokovic will be better rested because he’s had three days off to sit in his hyperbaric chambers and get his oxygen fix. I’m told Murray has tried it and didn’t find it beneficial. I believe an extra day off takes you out of the normal Grand Slam two-day rhythm of play, recover, play recover.
Murray has never had a better chance of winning the Australian Open. He knows the importance of putting together a firm game plan he must stick to and he must concentrate of the positivity of having beaten Djokovic in the US Open and Wimbledon finals rather than thinking negatively about losing 10 of his past 11 meetings with today’s opponent.
It would be easy to say it’s going to be another title for Djokovic but Murray has never had a better chance of winning this title.