Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have been playing each other for almost half their lives; first as talented teenagers in the juniors, then as young hopefuls starting out on the tour and now for the biggest prizes as elite superstars.
Murray is by one week the elder of the two but it is the Serb who has always been a step ahead in development. Djokovic made his first grand slam final at the US Open in 2007, losing to Roger Federer, and it was another 12 months before Murray contested the final at Flushing Meadow too, also suffering defeat at the hands of the Swiss legend.
Crucially Djokovic became a grand slam champion at the next attempt, the 2008 Australian Open, and since the start of 2011 has won the majority of grand slam events contested to take his total to five and spend over a year at number one.
Meanwhile, despite winning regular masters titles, Murray has been unable to breakthrough at the pinnacle of tennis. The Scot has now lost four major finals, failing to win a set in the first three. Most recently though Murray performed well in the Wimbledon final, taking the first set before falling once more to an inspired Federer, and then dominated the Olympic tournament, dismissing Federer in the final, to give new hope to his fans that he will win a grand slam.
This will be the second major final contested by Djokovic and Murray, the previous one being the 2011 Australian Open final, a match dominated by the Serb. Their only other grand slam meeting was a five-set thriller at this year’s Australian Open that Djokovic narrowly edged. The overall head-to-head is 8-6 in the Serb’s favour but it should be noted that three of those wins came back in 2007 before Murray matured as a force.
On hard courts, both players’ favoured surface, Djokovic leads 6-5. A statistic in Murray favour is that he has won three of the four masters finals the pair have played, giving him a 3-2 edge in finals overall. Also the Scot triumphed in straight sets at the pair’s most recent meeting at the London 2012 Olympics.
Djokovic’s form in the tournament so far has been impressive, particularly during the wins against Juan Martin del Potro and David Ferrer. Meanwhile Murray expended a significant amount of effort in an early round encounter with Feliciano Lopez and fell behind to both Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych in the last two rounds. To Murray’s credit he did adapt better than Djokovic to the windy conditions that plagued the semi-final matches.
On court the pair are well-matched. Both are exceptional defenders, with fantastic movement and athleticism, and both are brilliant returners, although Djokovic has the edge here in terms of aggression. The two best backhands on tour will be on show, and perhaps here Murray may benefit as he is more accomplished in terms of mixing it up with slice. Conversely Djokovic’s forehand should give the Serb an advantage in terms of depth and power despite Murray’s improvements on this wing. Given the quality of both players’ return games, serve will be even more crucial than usual. With a relatively weak second delivery Murray is likely to suffer if his first serve percentage is low.
Overall, despite Murray’s recent improvement, the case for Djokovic has to be considered strong. The Serb has won the past three hard court grand slams and beaten Murray in both their previous slam clashes. The pressure on Murray is unique on a national scale in that Britain has not had a grand slam champion in 76 years and on a personal level because of the previous four lost finals. The pressure of going for a first major must be much greater than Djokovic feels going for a sixth but after winning gold Murray appears to be convinced he can get it right this time and that might just be enough.
Follow the final live here: Djokovic vs Murray US Open Live