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Australian Open: Djokovic Outlasts Murray In Five-Set Classic
Heading into his semi-final with top seed Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray had nothing but doubt surrounding his game in big matches. Murray has struggled to compete in Grand Slam play against the top players in world and hence has never been considered to be a true threat to the big three. Clearly, that is no longer the case. While he did end up on the losing end of their marathon five-set match, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7, 6-1, 7-5, he proved to the tennis world that he does have another level and the will to compete against the best players in the world.
Edmonton - January 27, 2012 - Heading into his semi-final with top seed Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray had nothing but doubt surrounding his game in big matches. Murray has struggled to compete in Grand Slam play against the top players in world and hence has never been considered to be a true threat to the big three. Clearly, that is no longer the case. While he did end up on the losing end of their marathon five-set match, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7, 6-1, 7-5, he proved to the tennis world that he does have another level and the will to compete against the best players in the world. There is no shame in losing to the best player on the planet in what was nearly a five hour long battle. Djokovic will now square-off against Rafael Nadal for the third consecutive Grand Slam final and look to defend his Australian Open championship.
Even though these two are great friends and have played each other on many occasions, the first set was essentially, a feeling out process and Djokovic made the first move. The top seed broke the Scottish-man early on to jump out to a 3-1 lead but the number four seed would break right back to get the proceedings back on serve. Unfortunately for Murray, Novak broke him a second time in the very next game but this time it was at love. Not exactly the cleanest of starts for either man but the Serb took advantage of his opportunity and held on to take set number one 6-3. Though it was a struggle for both men, Djokovic did manage to hit 70% of his first serves, which makes beating the best returner in the game nearly impossible.
The top seed would start off set two in fine form, as he broke Murray in the opening game and jumped out to an early 2-0 lead but that lead did not last long. Murray would take the next four games to go up a service break and would break his rival one more time before cruising to a 6-3 victory. In fact, that final break came in a game that saw Murray lose a point on a 41 shot rally, which in previous matches, would deflate the two-time Australian Open runner-up. However that wasn't the case on this night, as Murray continued to battle and earned the crucial break of serve. As good as Novak's serve was in the opening set, it suddenly abandoned him in set two, as served a dreadful 40%. Not surprisingly, Murray got himself back into the match.
Set three was when this one started to look like it could be something special. Djokovic saved five break points in an 18 minute game to start the set and both men were starting pound the ball with much more authority. After failing to convert on his opportunities in the opening game, Murray would earn three more break chances and this time converted to grab the early 2-1 lead. Novak looked to be struggling physically but the Serb always seems to get that second wind and tonight would be no different. Just like set number one, Djokovic would immediately break back to get things back on even terms and things stayed that way heading into the pivotal tenth game. With Djokovic up 5-4 and Murray serving to stay in the set, he had two set points but Murray was able to fight them off and hold serve, as both players made sensational shots for winners. With a tiebreaker looming, Murray does the unthinkable and breaks the Serb. After exchanging numerous ground strokes during several rallies, the fourth seed played a marvelous final point, going side to side on a number of occasions before Djokovic finally sent the ball long. Murray had the set on his racket but the two-time Australian Open champion would break back to force a tiebreak. Andy would take the tiebreak 7-4 in a third set that was a match in itself, lasting 88 minutes. This physical battle was starting to take it's toll on Murray as he was starting to look worn down. Whereas Djokovic, had rebounded from his earlier struggles and looked fresh heading into set number four.
Novak started the fourth off in the same fashion as the second, by breaking Murray but this time the Serb did not let up. He broke him again in the third game and jumped out a 4-0 lead and cruised to 6-1 victory in only 25 minutes. It was clear that Murray pretty much gave up after falling down by two breaks and decided to just let this one go and conserve energy for set number five.
This one was turning out to be a classic. In my previous piece on the Nadal vs Federer semi-final, I said the one thing you could always count on seeing, when those two play each other, was great theatre. Through four grueling sets, these two men were producing their own spectacle and it was undoubtedly the centre piece of this year's championships...could they push it even further?
Murray looked spent after being destroyed in the third but still manged to stay on serve early on in the final set. However, Djokovic would break him midway through the fifth and then hold his serve to take a commanding 5-2 lead. Murray held to make it 5-3 but with Novak serving at 5-3, it looked to be all but over. Since the fourth set, the top seed had lost only six points on his serve and Andy seemed to have nothing left in the tank...or so it seemed.
The Scottish-man won the opening point in a tough 20 shot rally which took something out of the twenty-four year old Serb. He then missed a backhand, Murray hit a winner and suddenly it's triple break point! He would get his break on the very next point and Rod Laver Arena was in hysterics. They were back on serve and Murray had new life. He would hold his serve to square things up at five all and then it went to whole another level.
After dominating on his serve for nearly two full sets, Novak found himself down two break points and staring at the possibility of Murray serving for the match. After saving one point with a service winner, Djokovic pulled off a brilliant forehand winner on stroke number 29, of a wonderful rally, to get things back to deuce. He would save one more break point before holding and going up 6-5, with Murray next to serve to stay in the match. Like his counterpart, Andy fell behind 15-40 but unlike Djokovic, he could not save himself.
Four hours and fifty minutes after starting the proceedings we finally had a winner and both men were exhausted. There are very few things in sport that can match a battle between great rivals on a tennis court. The levels that players push themselves to compete in such matches, is simply astonishing. In certain situations, the physical sacrifice they must make, in order to win a Grand Slam title, is staggering. The fans of this great game are the true winners and let us hope there is still one more memorable moment to come at this year's Australian Open.
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