By Randy Walker
Exit Roger vs. Rafa.
Enter Andy vs. Novak.
The new rivalry in men’s tennis is beginning to crystallize.
Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic will play in their second consecutive major singles final at the 2013 Australian Open, signaling, likely, the start of their new era over men’s tennis, from the ashes of when the rivalry of Roger Federer against Rafael Nadal ruled the roost of men’s professional tennis.
Just over four months ago, Djokovic and Murray, both 25 years old and born only seven days apart, faced off in their first major singles final against each other at the US Open. On that day, Murray changed his status aloft the pantheon of men’s tennis from Grand Slam winner wannabe to major championship winner with his five-set victory. Now, with his shoulders more broad after jettisoning the albatross of major tournament failures, the Scotsman is taking dead aim at world No. 1 Djokovic as his top adversary for the spoils of pro tennis in the years to come. Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne is the next declared battlefield
Murray booked his ticket into his final-round confrontation with Djokovic with his 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-2 semifinal win over Federer, marking his first career win over his Swiss rival at a major tournament, another hallmark achievement to signify this “changing of the guard” in men’s tennis. Making major finals is now a fast habit for Murray, who will play in his third-straight Grand Slam tournament final – and the sixth of his career – Sunday in Melbourne.
Djokovic, with an extra day of rest heading into the final after his 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 thrashing of David Ferrer in Thursday’s semifinal, will be seeking to become the first man in the Open Era of tennis since 1968 to win three straight Australian Open titles and also equal Federer’s total of singles titles won at the major Down Under. A win over Murray would give the world No. 1 a sixth major singles title – a fourth in Australia to go with his 2011 Wimbledon and US Open titles – placing him alongside the likes of Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg as winners of six major singles titles in a career.
Last month, I contributed a blog here: http://www.worldtennismagazine.com/archives/8706 that glanced over the Djokovic-Murray rivalry, including their sleeper 2011 Italian Open semifinal match from 2011 that author Steve Flink gave honorable mention status to in his book THE GREATEST TENNIS MATCHES OF ALL TIME ($28.95, available here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Greatest-Tennis-Matches-Time/dp/0942257936/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354541881&sr=8-1&keywords=the+greatest+tennis+matches+of+all+time) The two matches that will receive the most analysis and attention leading into this 2013 Australian Open final are Murray’s 7-6(10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 win over Djokovic at the 2012 US Open that gave the Scot his much sought-after first major singles title and their 2012 Australian Open semifinal that Djokovic won 6-3, 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-1, 7-5.
And what will become of Federer and Nadal, the two men who combined to win 28 major titles since 2003 and who faced off eight major singles finals? Federer displayed impressive fight and desire in clawing into a fifth-set Friday against Murray, but at age 31, appeared to lose a step to Murray in the fifth set, a sign of his inevitable diminishing capabilities. There will be much scrutiny on Nadal’s game as the 11-time major winner returns to the game after seven-month hiatus due to what was called knee problems next month when he starts a three-tournament South American clay-court swing in Chile.