© Ella Ling

Andy Murray - defeat in semi-final

Aussie Open: 5 thoughts before Murray plays Djokovic

   

Five thoughts before Andy Murray plays Novak Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open:

Andy Murray would gladly lose another couple of toenails during Sunday’s conclusion to the Australian Open – to add to the pair which turned black and dropped off during last year’s US Open final – to win a second grand slam title. Murray is expecting pain at Melbourne’s Happy Slam. The masochist in him almost welcomes it (“I’m ready for it,” he said in conversation with Jim Courier).

The final promises long, brutal exchanges – these two are the best defensive players on the scene and there is about as much chance of Murray walking out into the Rod Laver Arena wearing a Lendl-style Legionnaire’s hat as there is of the match being short and sweet. They played for five hours in the semi-final of last year’s Australian Open and then almost another five in New York last September. Djokovic’s advantage is that he played his semi-final a day earlier, and was hardly extended at all, as it was a straight-sets thrashing of David Ferrer. Come the prize-giving ceremony, Murray may look down and find himself bleeding through his socks, and consider that winning a five-setter against Roger Federer had been the easy part.

Each could achieve history by the Yarra River - Djokovic is a match away from becoming the only man of modern times to win three successive titles in Melbourne, and Murray is three sets from becoming the only first-time grand slam champion in the Open era to win the next major. But there’s also the world number one ranking to think about. Nothing will change immediately. Even if Murray were to win on Sunday, and so hold two majors and Olympic gold at the same time, he would still be the world number three, behind Djokovic and Roger Federer. But, looking at the year ahead, winning the opening slam of the season would set Murray up nicely for possibly becoming the first British man to be at the top of the tennis tree. As well as Federer played in the semi, most would consider that it will be either Djokovic or Murray who will end the year as the number one. Murray, the runner-up to Federer at last summer’s Wimbledon, has now reached the final of the last three slams.

Murray’s not quite the new Borg, but he’s now so much better at keeping his agonies and frustrations zipped up. Friday night on the Rod Laver Arena was about the closest Roger Federer will ever get to being Jimmy Connors. He was effing (someone said that the Swiss swearing was like a unicorn giving you the finger), spewing at the umpire, indulging in some mild trash-talking, and generally looking as bloody-minded on court as he as in a long time. For calm and control in the white heat of a slam, you had to turn to the man on the other side of the net. As Federer has said, it seems that Murray is more at peace with himself. Murray served his way to some great numbers, pinging down 21 aces, but it was his mental approach which really impressed. Murray didn’t panic after losing the second set on a tiebreak (it was the first set he had lost all tournament) and he also didn’t panic when he failed to serve out the match at 6-5 in the fourth set, and then lost another breaker. The fifth set contained some of his best tennis of the match. His reward was his first victory against Federer at the slams, no small thing. If Murray can play with the same composure on Sunday that he did during his victory over Federer, he will give himself every chance of holding up the Norman Brookes Trophy.

Let’s not forget how close Djokovic came to going out of this tournament, with that fourth-round five-setter against Stan Wawrinka. How different Sunday would be looking for Murray if someone other than Djokovic had come through the top half of the draw.

Murray is now in the habit of going for his shots – he hit more winners than Federer – and has given up playing fetch behind the baseline. That was the old Murray. As Ivan Lendl once said to the Scot: “If you’re going to lose, go down swinging, don’t go with your ass against the back fence.”