No. 1 Djokovic, No. 2 Murray building Slam rivalry

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are building their own Grand Slam

rivalry, one that perhaps someday will merit mention alongside

Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal, or Djokovic vs. Nadal.

When the No. 1-ranked Djokovic faces No. 2 Murray to determine

Wimbledon’s champion Sunday, it will be their fourth meeting in a

major final – and third in less than a year.

Djokovic beat Murray at the Australian Open in 2011. Murray beat

Djokovic at the U.S. Open last September. Djokovic beat Murray at

the Australian Open this January.

That’s not yet quite up to the lofty standard set by Federer and

Nadal, who played each other in eight Grand Slam title matches from

2006-11. Djokovic and Nadal have contested five major finals since

2010, including a stretch of four in a row.

While part of the appeal of the Federer-Nadal matchup lies in

their vastly contrasting games – all the way down to the most basic

level, righty vs. lefty – Djokovic-Murray features two guys who

employ rather similar styles.

They are improving servers and fantastic returners who managed

to silence big hitters in the semifinals Friday: Tough to decide

whether it was more surprising that Djokovic had a 22-4 edge in

aces during his 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (6), 6-3 victory over No. 8

Juan Martin del Potro, or that Murray had a 20-9 edge in aces

during his 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 24 Jerzy

Janowicz.

They also are cover-every-inch hustlers who can switch from

defense to offense, quick as can be.

”There is some similarities there, in terms of if you look at

stats and stuff. I mean, both of us return well. That’s probably

the strongest part of our games. Both play predominantly from the

baseline,” said Murray, who is aiming to become the first British

man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.

”We both move well, but a different sort of movement,” Murray

continued. ”He’s extremely flexible and he slides into shots, even

on the courts here. He slides more. He’s quite a bit lighter than

me. So I’d say I probably move with more power, and he’s much more

flexible than me.”

In the women’s final Saturday, 15th-seeded Marion Bartoli of

France won her first Grand Slam title, beating 23rd-seeded Sabine

Lisicki of Germany 6-1, 6-4.

Djokovic, the 2011 Wimbledon champion, is seeking his seventh

Grand Slam title overall and will be playing in his 11th major

final. Murray is 1-5 in major finals. He has reached the

championship matches at each of the last four Grand Slam

tournament’s he entered; he skipped this year’s French Open because

of a bad back.

Murray didn’t need to expend too much energy to get past

Janowicz, but Djokovic’s win against del Potro was physically and

emotionally sapping. It lasted 4 hours, 43 minutes, a record for a

Wimbledon semifinal, and was filled with intense points.

”I did play a very long match, but I had situations before

where I had to recover even just in 24 hours for the match the next

day,” Djokovic said Saturday. ”I kind of got used to it and I

know my body. I have a great team of people around me that make

sure that we respect everything that we usually do. I’m confident

I’ll be ready for tomorrow.”

Del Potro’s take about how much Djokovic will have left for

Sunday: ”He will be OK.”

Djokovic and Murray have put up remarkably close numbers over

this fortnight.

Djokovic has lost two sets, Murray three. Djokovic has dropped

80 games through six matches, Murray 82. Djokovic has won 95 of 101

service games, Murray 95 of 103. Djokovic has 76 aces and only

seven double-faults; Murray has 80 aces and 11 double-faults.

Born a week apart in May 1987, Djokovic and Murray first met as

junior players.

”We know each other since we were 11 years old. On and off the

court, we have lots of respect for each other. Always very fair,

very honest relationship,” Djokovic said. ”Now we are big rivals

and it’s difficult. … So we don’t get together and have dinners

and parties, but we definitely always chat and remember the fun

days we had as juniors.”

The two men get along well enough that when both were at the

semifinal stage of last year’s U.S. Open, they sat in front of a

computer together and watched online while Murray’s Scotland and

Djokovic’s Serbia played to a 0-0 draw in a qualifying match for

soccer’s World Cup.

”We have a professional friendship, I think, now. When we were

younger, it was more friendly,” Murray said.

”We’ve spent a lot of time discussing various issues within

tennis and doing what I think sometimes what was best for the

sport. But I don’t think it goes more than that right now. I would

hope when we finish playing, it will be different,” Murray added.

”But it’s just hard, because playing in big, big matches with a

lot on the line, you can’t be best of friends when that’s

happening.”

Djokovic leads the head-to-head series 11-7, including winning

their most recent three matches. While this is their first

Wimbledon encounter, they did play on the All England Club’s grass

in the semifinals of last year’s London Olympics, and Murray won

7-5, 7-5 on his way to a gold medal.

That’s part of year-plus stretch in which Murray has won 17

consecutive matches on grass, and 23 of 24.

His victory over Federer in the Olympic final, four weeks after

losing to the 17-time major title winner on the same court in the

Wimbledon final, gave Murray a real boost of confidence.

There’s a tremendous amount of pressure and expectations heaped

on Murray every year at this time, because of the considerable wait

for a British champion.

He knows that, of course.

So does Djokovic, who is aware there will not be many people

pulling for him in the stands Sunday.

”It’s normal to expect, in a way, that most of the crowd will

be on his side. He’s a local hero,” Djokovic said.

Murray says he thrives with the backing of 15,000 or so

flag-waving, top-of-their-lungs-yelling spectators every time he

plays on Centre Court.

”There’s that extra bit of pressure that probably Novak doesn’t

have,” said Murray’s older brother, Jamie, who won the 2007 mixed

doubles title at the All England Club. ”If (Andy) deals with that

well, then I’m sure he can perform in the final. Whether he wins or

not I don’t know, but they’re two evenly matched guys, and they’ve

had a lot of great matches in the past. Hopefully Sunday will be

another one.”

Instead of another Federer vs. Nadal, No. 1 vs. No. 2, match on

the last Sunday, this time it’ll be Djokovic and Murray. In as

unpredictable a Wimbledon as anyone can recall, Nadal lost in the

first round, and Federer exited in the second, both against men

ranked outside the top 100.

Murray was asked how his mindset might be different in his

second Wimbledon final than it was in his first, 12 months ago.

”I’ll be probably in a better place mentally. I would hope so,

just because I’ve been there before. I won a Grand Slam. I would

hope I would be a little bit calmer going into Sunday,” Murray

said. ”But you don’t know. You don’t decide that. I might wake up

on Sunday and be unbelievably nervous, more nervous than I ever

have been before. But I wouldn’t expect to be.”

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