After a fortnight of intense heat, gruelling battles and victory being snatched from the jaws of despair (and that’s just Nigel Sears), the final of the men’s singles at the Australian Open is just around the corner.
Fittingly, the world’s top two players will duke it out for the trophy and early season bragging rights, and for Andy Murray you sense the opportunity to defeat Novak Djokovic in a major final on a hard court is quite a big deal.
The Numbers Game
No discussion of a Djokovic/Murray clash would be complete without reference to those rather damning head-to-head statistics: of their 30 previous meetings, Djokovic has won 21. Already this sets the likelihood of winning percentages at 68% for the Serb and 32% for Murray.
But now let’s factor in the meetings that really count: those hard court clashes that have taken place in the last two years. Here Djokovic holds a 9-1 lead, and in sets that translates to 22-3 in favour of the world number one. Yes, you read that right: Andy Murray has won just three sets in his last ten matches on hard courts against Djokovic.
Of their career Grand Slam matches on hard courts the record reads 5-1 to Djokovic, with a set score of 17-8 in his favour. Whichever way you tweak the numbers, it doesn’t look good for the Scot, and highlights why the Serb has been priced as short as 1/5 to claim his eleventh Grand Slam title – bringing him level with Bjorn Bjorg and Rod Laver.
So does Murray stand any chance?
Pundits will point to Djokovic’s last 16 clash with Gilles Simon here that went all the way to a fifth set as some kind of sign that the Serb is vulnerable, but let’s look at the bigger picture for a moment: he looked in trouble against Feliciano Lopez at the US Open but powered through (and won the tournament no less), and likewise against Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon last summer. A Djokovic wobble is common, but in his other five matches at this tournament he has dropped just one set; which came in that shellacking of Roger Federer in the semi-final.
Murray, meanwhile, has dropped four sets in six matches, and while nobody is questioning his temperament and will to win, the stats suggest he hasn’t quite been at his best here – not surprising given all of the off-court distractions in his life at the moment.
The world number two has served the fourth highest amount of double faults of any player in the tournament, and has won just 57% of points on his second serve. This is a worry as Djokovic is the tournament leader in second serve return points won – and this is likely to be an area which the number one seed attacks.
We can’t let there be a complete whitewash of negativity against Murray though. This pair have met four times at the Australian Open alone: and yes Djokovic has won all of them.
But Murray has won at least one set in three of those four, and so this forms the basis of a betting tip that has some value and should act as consolation for Murray fans: back the Scot with a +2.5 Set Handicap.