There is little doubt who is the player to beat in 2016. But there also seems to be little doubt who number two is. With Federer’s unlikely season full of sickness and injury woes, Andy Murray has stepped out to the plate and played solidly even on his least favorite surface – clay. He’s now in his second Masters final in a row and against the same familiar foe – Novak Djokovic. His head-to-head record is rather dismal against the Serb, 23-9 at the time of writing and their rivalry has many times been rather one-sided. The main question ahead of today’s final is therefore – does Murray have a chance?
In Madrid, it was a close contest, but Djokovic was the stronger and more confident player in the third set. In Rome, Murray’s journey to the final has been relatively simple, while Djokovic has had two titanic battles against Nadal and Nishikori. What does that say about his energy reserves? Does he have enough in the tank to win his 30th (another record) Masters title or is he too tired?
One thing is certain: Djokovic knows how to win tight matches and plays his best tennis with a dagger at his throat – he’s displayed amazing clutch-play both against Nadal and Nishikori. And with Murray he knows that they have similar games, but there isn’t really a shot that he doesn’t do better, although with slim margins.
That’s my main issue with the Murray vs Djokovic rivalry – it’s often too predictable. Not only when it comes to the result, but also around the tennis. It’s a waiting game between the two players on tour who miss the least amount of shots. It’s a show of amazing patience and physique, but it’s quite frankly at times rather boring.
I know it’s like swearing in church to not marvel at the ability of these two players, and I do, but from a tennis strategy point of view, it’s simply not my jar of brew so to speak. Maybe this time it will be slightly different from the last four matches they’ve played, where it the outcome felt inevitable and where Murray seemed to be the only player struggling. Maybe this time Djokovic’s tiredness along with Murray’s rising confidence on clay can make it into a fascinating struggle?
I don’t know. My main wish for today’s game is that one player decides to play more aggressively than normal. I don’t think it’s going to happen because it’s not what they’re good at, but it would make for a classic contest of attack vs defence, which is an ingredient I feel is often missing between Murray and Djokovic.
Anyway, this is my rant. My prediction is, that despite his tiredness, Djokovic wins it in three sets and the third set rather comfortably.