Another grand slam final, the same superb Serb in the way. Just one week separates Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in age, but the gap in terms of titles is growing. The French Open final was the fifth time the Scot had lost to Djokovic in a major tournament decider.
So, what can be done? With just one week to go until Wimbledon begins, and the Queen’s championship already under way, how do you solve a problem like Novak? Russell Fuller, the BBC tennis correspondent, thinks there is more cause for optimism than you may think.
1. Grass is good
Murray has a losing record against Djokovic on every other surface, but on grass, he leads 2–0: from the Olympics semi-final in 2012 and the Wimbledon final in 2013.
Djokovic is an even better grass-court player now than he was, but I would take Murray on grass ahead of, say, Murray on the hard courts in the US Open. He’s grown up on the surface; Djokovic hasn’t.
2. More power, shorter points
The reason why grass suits Murray is that it’s a quicker surface. Djokovic’s serve is phenomenally consistent, but Murray’s is more powerful. We’ve seen even more muscle in it so far this year.
There’s a chance for him to get more free points on serve. At the French Open, the two five-set matches he played at the start of the tournament came back to haunt him in the final. In the third and fourth sets on that day, Murray looked very tired. His fighting qualities are second to none, but if he could avoid getting sucked in to any first-week drama, that would definitely help his chances.
3. You’ll like him when he’s angry
Murray is a more emotional guy than Djokovic. He’s more likely to be disturbed by, for example, the wrong person sitting in his box, or a camera flying over the court.
He called himself “an absolute turnip” at one point during the French Open, which was quite funny. At times, the way he gets so down on himself can be counterproductive. But if you take the emotion and the fire out of Murray, you don’t have the same player. They need to be controlled positively, but they need to stay.
4. Ivan Lendl
It came as little surprise that Murray put in a call to Ivan Lendl, his former coach who he reunited with earlier this week. It’s rare to go back to a coach at that level – but they had a successful period together.
To have somebody to share the experience in the hour before a final, who instinctively knows what you’re feeling: that’s an advantage. Yes, you pay a fortune for it, but if it’s going to win you grand slam titles, it’s worth it.
5. Djokovic has to fall…doesn’t he?
Murray is, clearly, the second best player in the world. Australian Open finalist, French Open finalist… The problem is, as always, Djokovic. But can Djokovic peak at Wimbledon as he did at the French? Can he peak at the Olympic Games, four weeks after Wimbledon? And can he peak again for the US Open, two weeks after the Olympics?
If anybody can, Djokovic can, but you do feel in such a congested summer there are going to be opportunities for other players. Murray is the best placed to take advantage if there is a slip from the man at the top.
6. And the Serb isn’t at Queen’s!
Murray has won Queen’s four times. No one has won it five times, so he could become the most successful player in its history.
I don’t think Murray feels the same stress at Wimbledon that he used to, either. Yes, there is still tension and expectation, but the support is overwhelmingly positive. He did not have the bulk of the support in the final in Paris.
I would like to think that if they met again in a Wimbledon final, there would be plenty of reasons to be cheerful about a British victory. It will be incredibly tough, but don’t think there’s no point in watching because we know the outcome. We don’t.
Tennis from Queen’s will be on BBC1 on Saturday and BBC2 on Sunday with coverage also on Eurosport 2 and 5 Live Sports Extra
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