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Novak Djokovic ready for another epic against old rival

Novak Djokovic serves.
by Kate Battersby
Saturday 6 July 2013

Opinions vary as to when Novak Djokovic first met Andy Murray. The Serb says they were 11, the Scot maintains they were 13. They do agree, however, that it was in the French town of Tarbes at a junior event.

“It was maybe my first international tournament,” recalls Djokovic, now 26 and the younger man by just seven days. “He crushed me actually. I remember his curly hair. I remember a short visit on the tennis court.”

In the men’s final at Wimbledon 2013, it is to be hoped that no one crushes anyone, and that the visit rivals Djokovic’s epic semi-final win over Juan Martin Del Potro in quality, thrills and longevity. After all, this is the final all neutrals wanted to see, and perhaps uniquely at this Wimbledon, the seedings have not been confounded.

After their wonderful finals at the US Open last year and the Australian this, a classic is possible. Djokovic leads their jousts 11-7, although Murray has won three of the last eight – but the Serb has won all three of their meetings since Murray’s triumph at the US Open.

There is no denying that the world No.1 has been playing the more assured tennis so far, although their respective statistics throughout the Championship – aces, double faults, first serve percentage, break points saved, service games won and games dropped – are very close. In a Championship decider, anything can happen, as Marion Bartoli proved again on Saturday. Nonetheless, most have the six-times Grand Slam champion as favourite.

 “I watch him receive 20 first serves and sometimes he manages to get 19 of them back, and usually into a reasonably neutral area where he can start the rally on equal terms,” says Brad Gilbert, sometime coach to Andre Agassi, and the Andys Roddick and Murray.

“He so often gets into the perfect position to deliver his groundstrokes, and that helps the aggressive forehand and down-the-line backhand which is a signature shot. And there will be no problem about Novak not believing in himself.”

Three-times Wimbledon champion Boris Becker is not quite so sure. “I thought Djokovic had a problem with his hip in the later stages of the semi-final,” observes the German. “If so, it has consequences for the final with the likelihood of long baseline rallies, moving left and right.

“Djokovic needs to be in great shape. If he is, then he is the favourite, without question. He is simply playing great tennis. He has Superman powers of endurance. Look at his four-hour-plus semi-final against Murray at the Australian Open last year, then coming back two days later to defeat Rafael Nadal in almost six hours, in one of the finest matches of all time. Djokovic, in his physical abilities, is almost a freak of nature. It seems impossible how much the guy stretches and slides, and how he recovers after long rallies like nobody else.

“I do not see a weakness in Djokovic's game. If this is a final decided purely on tennis, then he has the edge. But he should have won his semi in four sets, and instead he was out there for another hour and had to work hard again in the fifth. Even though he is my favourite to win his second Wimbledon title, in his head he is a bit more drained than Murray. I feel that Murray is harbouring more positive emotions.”

Of course no one would expect Djokovic to admit to fatigue, but he insists his marathon semi-final is a non-factor.

“I was in worse situations before, like in the Australian Open in 2012 where I managed to recover, feel fresh and play another six hours to win the title in the final," he shrugs. "I'm ready and I'm looking forward to it.”

Nor does he agree that last year’s US Open final, where he lost to Murray in five sets, is a bad memory.

“It was a great event for me as well as Andy,” he says. “Being second is not the end of the world, especially in the major events. He deserved his first Grand Slam. It was another valuable experience that helped me mentally in the Australian final this year where it was also very close against Andy, and I managed to prevail. This is what we expect in the final here, that very few points can decide the winner. That’s why you need to be extra committed to every point.”

And no one can doubt Djokovic is committed to winning his second Wimbledon title.

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