We know the Djokovic vs Murray head-to-head record: 12-8 in the Serbian player’s favour. We know that both men struggled in the lead-up to the US Open. We know that they are two of the best-conditioned tennis players on the planet, willing to leave their entrails on the court if necessary. But we have no idea what will happen when Novak and Andy face off in the quarter-finals on Wednesday. Here are three ways this blockbuster clash could pan out…
Scenario 1: Djokovic to win in straight sets
The world number one disappointed in Toronto and Cincinnati, losing to Gael Monfils and Tommy Robredo – players he has owned in the past. Just a month after his Wimbledon triumph and a few weeks after getting married, Djokovic appeared understandably demotivated. But since arriving in New York, he has resembled the businesslike, clinical automaton we have come to know so well. Diego Schwartzman, Paul-Henri-Mathieu and Sam Querrey struggled to win games against him; in the fourth round, Philipp Kohlschreiber put up a bit more resistance before he too succumbed in three sets. Djokovic has wasted very little time in getting to the quarter-finals, which will leave him fresh for his 21st bout with Murray. He’ll get on top of the Scot early on and slowly smother him with pinpoint hitting, aggressive returning and unwavering focus. Frustrated, Murray will become passive and let the ball drop short, opening the door for Djokovic to hit a flurry of winners.
Scenario 2: Murray to win in straight sets
Andy hasn’t made a semi-final all year. His fans have grown frustrated with how long his recovery from back surgery has taken, which means that the man himself must be even more determined to get back on track. Murray’s straight sets defeat of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Monday was his first top ten win of 2014 and arguably his most impressive: he stayed aggressive on the big points and, even when 2-4 down in the second set, didn’t panic. That positive attitude bodes well for the quarter-final with Djokovic. Murray will vary the angles, serve well and surprise the Djoker with the sheer imaginative force of his game. Djokovic, not having played an elite competitor since edging Federer in the Wimbledon final, will struggle to cope with what Murray throws at him and duly go for too much, resulting in a higher-than-usual unforced error count.
Scenario 3: A four-hour plus epic that will leave the victor, and those watching, utterly drained.
These two are known for their Herculean battles, so why should this match be anything other than a marathon slog? In 2012, the Australian Open semi-final, the US Open final and the Shanghai final pushed both athletes to their considerable limits. Even Murray’s straight sets victory in the 2013 Wimbledon showpiece was an exhausting affair. Unless one man is well below his best or suffering from an injury, this quarter-final will not be a quick match. Djokovic’s metronomic consistency from the back of the court, Murray’s unique brand of aggressive defence and both men’s superb returning will result in precious few easy points. The winner will be the man who has more in the tank in the closing stages. Does Murray’s cramping during the Robin Haase match last week suggest that he will be the one to flag first? Or will he take heart from the fact that he has come through a physical test?
Prediction: Much will depend on how aggressive Murray can stay – with Djokovic chasing everything down, he might resort to safe crosscourt hitting. But there is a sense that the eighth seed wants this more, and desire can make the difference at this level. Murray will stumble and wobble along the way, but he’ll outfight Djokovic in four gruelling sets.