Australian Open 2015: Friendly rivals Djokovic and Murray ready for final

Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are preparing for Sunday's Australian Open final in Melbourne

Theirs is a rivalry that goes back eight years when, as 20-year-olds, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray met on the main tour for the first time in the fourth round of the Madrid Masters.

By then, both men had already broken into the top 20, both had reached three tour finals, Djokovic winning two, Murray one. Extraordinary, perhaps, that for two such established and fast-rising players, they had not met sooner. Even more surprising given that they had come through the junior ranks together since the age of 12, separated in age by just one week.

For three more years, their stories remained locked in a parallel course, splitting their seven meetings 4-3, just edged by Djokovic.

The Serb grabbed his first two Masters titles in 2007, Murray his in 2008. Djokovic reached his first Major final at the US Open in 2007, Murray the following year, same tournament and same victor, Roger Federer.

By the end of 2008, they were firmly locked at Nos 3 and 4 in the rankings, and remained so when they played for the Miami title in March 2009.

But Djokovic had already won his first Major in Australia, and by the time they met again, after a gap of almost two years, the landscape was changing. Murray had reached his second Major final in Melbourne in 2010, again losing to Federer, but come January 2011, he would renew his rivalry with Djokovic for the first time since Miami and for the first time at the Australian Open, and in the final.

What few could predict was that Djokovic was about to blossom into the best player in the world, winning 10 titles that included all the Majors except Roland Garros plus five Masters. He would become world No1 and a permanent fixture in the top two, gathering 48 titles on his way to their 24th meeting—and their fourth in Melbourne.

Things have, of course, also moved on for Murray in the intervening years. He did beat Djokovic to win his first Major at the US Open in 2012, did go on to beat him again for the Wimbledon title in 2013, and did garner 31 titles. But while Djokovic’s star continued to rise through 2014, Murray’s faded as he worked his way back to form from back surgery and a slip to No12 in the rankings.

As luck would have it, Murray’s run to his first Major final since that 2013 Wimbledon has taken him back to the top four. As luck would have it, he will face Djokovic for a fourth time in Australia, in their third final. And though he may be 15-8 down through their decade of rivalry, both his Grand Slam victories have come at the expense of the mighty Serb.

It is worth adding that Murray has regained something of the look, confidence and form of the man who won their 2013 Wimbledon encounter… but what have he and his rival had to say in the days ahead of this fascinating final?

Djokovic on Murray: “He’s been playing some great tennis these couple weeks. From my side, it’s going to be necessary to perform at my best and play the best match of the tournament if I want to win. There’s no clear favourite. But the record I have in finals against him here in Australia can serve maybe as a slight mental edge—but not much. I don’t think he’s going to feel that on the court.

“People do expect a lot from him because he is a top player, a Grand Slam winner, an Olympic gold medallist. We all know he has the quality in his game. It’s not a huge surprise to see him in the finals… He deserves to be there.

“With the game that he has, he has a winning mindset. He’s a great fighter, great competitor, and somebody that commits to this sport. You can see that on a daily basis… I know him for a long time, so it’s great we are able to challenge each other now in another Grand Slam final.

“The fact we know each other since 11, 12, there is only week difference between us, very similar game and very similar role to professional tennis, I think that’s what makes it very special.”

Murray on Djokovic: “I know if I want to win, it will probably be very, very tough and challenging physically. So I need to prepare myself mentally for that. But [Novak] has a fantastic record here. He obviously loves the court and the conditions. And, yeah, it would be a big upset if I manage to win tomorrow.

“I’ve never won against him here before. I think I’ve lost to him the last four or five times we played each other, as well. Maybe only won one set in those matches. I played him a couple times at the end of last year and lost pretty comfortably. For me it would be a big turnaround in a few months if I was able to win. I’m not saying it’s not a possibility, but it’s going to be very, very tough.

“I know winning any of the Slams is a very challenging and tough thing to do. Winning three of four Slams in this era seems like nothing because of everything that the other guys have done. But it’s a very difficult thing to do. So whether I win tomorrow or not, I still feel like my record here has been a good one.”

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