Djokovic and Murray put friendship aside
Long-time pals Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are hoping Sunday night's Australian Open final will herald the start of grand slam tennis's next great rivalry.
Long-time pals Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are hoping Sunday night’s Australian Open final will herald the start of Grand Slam tennis’s next great rivalry.
Born seven days apart, 23-year-olds Djokovic and Murray have been clashing since their early junior days, more than a decade ago.
But only after finally emerging from the shadows of tennis titans Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will the two square off at a major for the very first time.
“Because we’ve always been like three and four (in the world) the last few years, we’ve always been on different halves of the draw in every tournament we’ve played,” Murray said after outlasting Spaniard David Ferrer 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-1 7-6 (7-2) in Friday’s second semi-final.
“So we haven’t come up against each other for over two years now. So we practice a lot together. We get on well together. We’re good friends.
“But in terms of a rivalry, I think this will be the start. Well, I hope it’s the start of us playing each other in big matches.”
After losing his first four senior matches against Djokovic, Murray won their next three encounters but they haven’t played since Miami in April, 2009.
“I think we reconnected again and have become a bit closer,” Djokovic said.
“It’s nice to see somebody that you grew up with. We played under-12, under-10, under-14.
“We basically made a breakthrough to top 100 more or less at the same time. It’s nice to see somebody doing well, the person who was your long-time friend.”
As a teenager, Murray honed his silky game on the clay courts of Barcelona, while Djokovic moved from Belgrade to train at the Niki Pilic Academy in Munich.
“We both went quite different routes,” Murray said.
“We played each other up until we were like 15, and then he improved a lot faster than I did.
“Then I managed to catch up. It wasn’t really until we got back on the tour that we started playing together a lot and practicing together again.”
But there can be no room for sentiment on Sunday.
“We’re both professionals,” Djokovic said.
“We have to forget about all that when we step on the court. It’s all business.”
Apart from Juan Martin del Potro, Djokovic is the only player to have broken the Federer-Nadal grand slam dominance since 2005.
The Serb won his lone major after conquering Federer in the 2008 semi-finals in Melbourne and is hoping history repeats following his 7-6 (7-3) 7-5 6-4 defeat of the Swiss master on Thursday night.
Regardless, Djokovic believes just the second grand slam final not involving either Federer or Nadal in almost eight years can only help the game.
“It’s good for the sport to have more players being able to win against Federer and Nadal,” the world No.3 said.
“All the credit to them what they have done in last five, six years. They’ve been very dominant and just a great example of champions.
“It was really hard to challenge them, especially in the big events where they play their best tennis.
“We are still behind them but now these things are changing a little bit, so from that perspective it’s good for the sport.”
Murray, who lost last year’s Open final to Federer, as well as the 2008 US Open decider to the Swiss, is once again bidding to become Britain’s first men’s Grand Slam champion since Fred Perry in 1936.
“It’s more like a personal dream or a personal goal of mine,” the Scot said. “So that’s really what you need to sort of keep in check and not let yourself get ahead of yourself.
“The historical thing, it’s not something that I’ve thought about that much. I don’t want to sort of get myself so amped up that I play a stinker of a match.
“If you go in thinking like, ‘yeah, no-one’s won for 60 years’, I might never get another chance.
“I’m going to make the most of the opportunity, for sure. I’ll give 110 per cent. But I also need to make sure I’m relaxed and calm on the court. I don’t want to get myself sort of too worked up.”