Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Murray and Djokovic showcase the gap between the best and the rest in majestic final

After 76 long years, Great Britain finally has a grand slam winner in Andy Murray. In a final that will long be remembered in the annals of US Open history, Andy Murray overcame Novak Djokovic in a titanic battle that lasted almost 5 hours of relentless quality tennis. There were lengthy rallies galore, amazing scrambles, transitions from attack to defence and vice versa, jaw-dropping winners, subtle drop shots and cute volleys. The match simply featured everything a true tennis fan would want to see in a grand slam final.

Murray's first grand slam was a testament to the variety of shots he possesses as well as a tactical acumen that enables him to adapt to the most difficult of conditions. During his quarter-final victory over Marin Cilic, Murray took a while to adjust to the faster conditions on Louis Armstrong court. However, once he adjusted his game he utilized the speed of the court to his advantage with his soft hands at net completely bamboozling the Croatian, as Murray eventually won at a canter after being a set and double break down.

Then in the semi against Tomas Berdych, Murray clearly understood the tricky windy conditions better. After losing a tight first set, Murray adjusted the pace and angles of his shots to flummox Roger Federer's conquerer. Berdych ultimately ended up beating himself as he went for outrageous winners completely befuddled by Murray's variety in pace and placement.

In the final, once again in extremely terrible conditions, Murray adjusted to the circumstances much better than the defending champion Djokovic. While Djokovic displayed his unease with the conditions throughout the first two sets, Murray played extremely smart tennis to arrive at the cusp of his grand slam victory.

That the journey from cusp to completion took much longer had a lot to do with the dogged determination of Djokovic. Playing some excellent tennis from the baseline, Djokovic mixed it up with some brilliant approach play and scintillating play at net to take the match into the fifth set.

Murray could easily have fallen by the wayside considering he had thrown a two set lead away. In stead he played a brilliant first game to break Djokovic to start the fifth set. He didn't let the momentum get away, as he broke Djokovic again in the third game of the set. Despite losing one of the breaks, Murray dispelled any doubts serving four coruscating first serves to take a 4-2 lead and ultimately win an engrossing match.

Murray vs. Djokovic might just be the defining rivalry of men's tennis in 2013. Other than the brilliant final, both players showcased some immaculate tennis mixed with a winning fortitude throughout the tournament. Whether Rafael Nadal will be the same force after such a long injury remains to be seen. Roger Federer is only going to find it more difficult in best of five set matches as he gets one year older.

It was a great year for the big four of men's tennis. 2012 ended up with all them winning a grand slam, and the signs are promising for their continued dominance in 2013. It is a slight worry however, that the next big star from the ATP seems to be nowhere on the horizon. Messrs Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Nadal have now been duelling for the best part of 5 years, with nobody outside the top four a genuine title threat at major tournaments.

Almost all the players outside the top four seem to be clones of each other, possessing the 2 pack combo featuring a big serve and a big forehand. The hope is that there is a younger generation who is looking to emulate the variety and tactical discipline of the big four, rather than focusing solely on power and physicality. Until we have some variety in the middle reaches of the men's game, the top four will once again be the main contenders at the grand slams in 2013.