With the exit of the World no.1 Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, the US Open draw had been converging towards an inevitable showdown between the two remaining heavyweights in the field, the 2nd seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic and the 3rd seed and reigning Olympic gold medallist, Andy Murray. The previous 8 Grand Slam finals, stretching from the 2010 US Open, have featured two members out of the esteemed top 4 battling for a place in Grand Slam history, and the pair, winners of a total of 54 ATP titles, made sure that run is not halted anytime soon. Little separates the two vis-a-vis on court capabilities with whatever slight edge Djokovic owns in the power and weight of his shots is nullified by Murray’s superior defensive ability and variety. On top of that, an age difference of only 7 days and with less than 100 matches separating the two, a neck-to-neck encounter is definitely on the cards.
Of the two finalists, the Serbian had the much easier road towards the finals, losing just a single set in the process. In the quarterfinals, in what was slated to be the first big test for Djokovic, he coasted past the Argentine giant, Juan Martin Del Potro in a “battle of past champions” in straight sets, winning 62 76(3) 64. The world no.2’s returning prowess and powerful and precise groundstrokes were on full display as he blasted a total of 43 winners, methodogically picked apart his opponent with consummate ease.
In the final four, he was given more of a workout by the fiery Spaniard David Ferrer in a match that stretched for two days due to inclement weather conditions on Saturday. The veteran came out all guns blazing jumping to a 5-2 lead, allowing himself the opportunity to serve for the set, thanks to an aggressive game plan and a subpar Djokovic, who clearly seemed bothered by the windy conditions before the match got postponed to the next day. Nevertheless, the break proved to be just what the Djoker needed, and though the Spaniard was able to grab the first set 6-2, Djokovic simply started to find levels and gears which the Spaniard did not possess as he brushed aside the challenge, winning the next 3 sets with relative ease. Even though, the veteran gave his all, using his trademark tenacity and determination, he increasingly started to seem like a “poor man’s Djokovic”, having as good a defense as the Serbian but lagging behind in terms of power and shotmaking ability.
On the other hand, Murray’s road to the final was packed with bumps, speed breakers and gutters as he toiled and battled his way to his 5th Grand Slam final, losing 3 sets en route as he looks to emulate his coach, Ivan Lendl, who won his maiden Grand Slam title in his fifth attempt.
As early as the third round, the 3rd seed scraped past the big-serving Spaniard, Feliciano Lopez 76(5) 76(5) 46 76(4) in an encounter that was even closer than the scoreline indicates. Even though, it was Lopez who had won 8 more points than the 3rd seed, the Briton’s superior Grand Slam experience proved to be the discerning factor as he edged past the Spaniard in almost 4 hours. In the 4th round, the Olympic gold medallist rose up to the challenge of the up and coming Canadian Milos Raonic as he quelled the big-serving Canadian’s power-packed game with consummate ease, winning the encounter 64 64 62.
In the quarterfinals, against the inspired Croatian, Marin Cilic, Murray was almost on his way out, going down a set and a couple of breaks and was literally being overwhelmed by the Croatian’s shotmaking ability. However, The Briton’s newfound hunger and lion-hearted will was on full display as he crawled his way out of the massive hole, before taking the 2nd set in a tiebreaker. Dejected after losing such a humongous lead, the Croatian’s resistance faded allowing Murray to take the remaining two sets for the loss of just two games, winning the match up 36 76(4) 62 60.
In the semifinals, he was up against Federer’s conqueror, the 6th seed, Tomas Berdych and in the initial phase of the match the Czech looked set to add to his upset list as he powered his way past the gusty winds to grab the first set 7-5. However, with winds picking up dramatically, the Briton used his superior dexterity and court sense to deny the tall Czech any rhythm as he outmaneuvered Berdych through the remainder of the contest to book a spot alongside a familiar foe in the finals.
Even though, their head-to-head record stands at 8-6 in Djokovic’s favor, Murray has won their most recent encounter in the semi-finals of London Olympics, rolling past the Serbian in straight sets. Nevertheless, that match took place on the lush lawns of Wimbledon, arguably the Serbian’s least favorite surface and add to it the fact that Djokovic has won the previous 3 hard-court Grand Slams, their last encounter holds little to no leverage.
That leaves us with just two variables in the equation – the current form of both the players and who among the two wants it more. There is no question to the fact it is the Briton who desperately would want to end his country’s wait for a Grand Slam champion for 76 years. However, that very desperation might backfire, having lost 4 Grand Slam finals prior to this, Murray might approach the encounter with a mindset to “not lose” the match as opposed to taking the game to the Serbian and “winning” it in his own terms. Nevertheless, the many victories that he toughed out during the span of the tournament might just give him the much needed confidence needed to take the final step and if he comes into the match with such a determined attitude, the crowd is in for a special spectacle as the two baseline giants battle it out.
With all that said, the fact of the matter is that Djokovic is the one who is enjoying better form, having not even been remotely troubled throughout the duration of the tournament and just due to that reason expect the Serbian to edge the Briton in a 5-set thriller.