Novak Djokovic increasingly looks as if he has this rivalry with Andy Murray by the scruff of the neck. The Serb leads their head to head series 20-9, and has won nine of their last ten matches since Murray triumphed over him at Wimbledon in 2013. It was looking increasingly like one way traffic until the Scot stopped the rot with a win last August in the title match of the Rogers Cup. Make no mistake though; Djokovic seemingly has Andy’s number nowadays.
I think when these two contest best of three matches; they are as a rule higher quality affairs compared to their best of five encounters. Both men play pretty similar games, predicated on defence, drawing the error and creating openings for more aggressive plays. I have noticed that in some of their Slam encounters, in Australia or at Flushing Meadows in particular, the buffer created by a finish line that is farther away can lull both into a defensive complacency, leading neither in the early stages to take charge and resulting instead in rallying affairs. In contrast, the three set matches seem to inject in both men a sense of urgency, and thus willingness to be the aggressor and forced the issue. Two of the best matches the pair have contested were contested in the three set format, their 2012 encounters at The Olympics and Shanghai were high octane matches where both players came out guns blazing, eager to put away each other.
It remains to be seen whether today’s clash in the final of the Paris Masters shall deliver the same quality. In their last meeting, the semi-finals of Shanghai, Murray surrendered rather tamely to Djokovic in two lopsided sets. In addition, Novak likes these courts, medium paced for an indoor event; he is the two time defending champion. I will always give Novak an edge on a medium to slow hard court against Murray, especially in controlled indoor conditions. One wonders as well what motivation Murray will have to go all out, what with the World Tour Finals looming, not to mention the Davis Cup final, an event he is prioritising.
I believe two key shots of Murray’s will lead to a Djokovic victory this afternoon. The Scot’s forehand is liable to landing in the middle of the court, and I think Novak will waste little time in taking charge of the rally when this inevitably happens. In addition, whilst Murray possesses a good first serve, it is not a high percentage shot, thus he will have to hit a fair number of second serves. This shot is arguably the Scots weakest, often only hit at around 80 miles per hour. Against the greatest returner in the world, and perhaps in the history of the sport, he is more often than not punished when attempting the second delivery. All is not lost for the second seed though. He won his semi-final against Ferrer in routine fashion, earlier in the day than when Novak beat Wawrinka in three sets. He should be fresh for this encounter. Nevertheless, I expect Novak to continue in his rich vein of form and make it three Paris titles in a row.
Djokovic to win in straight sets.
Cover Photo (Creative Commons License): Marianne Bevis