World Tour Finals: Djokovic d. Murray
How do you judge what goes inside the unconscious mind of a man, or how those currents affect his emotions—and ultimately, his ability to perform on the athletic field? That’s a universal question Andy Murray raises in almost every tennis match he plays. His loss in the round-robin stage of the ATP World Tour finals today to Novak Djokovic, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, was a pretty good example.
Murray started strong, but gradually—as Djokovic bided his time and kept his cool—lost control of the match. By the middle of what by now seems like the obligatory decisive set between these two, it was obvious that Murray was experiencing Hamlet moments once again.
They were mere flickers of doubt, anxiety, or inadequacy, to be sure. But you just can’t bring that stuff to the game when you’re playing Djokovic, because he’ll just pound and hammer and blast away, cucumber-cool and covertly watchful, and ultimately pull away while your spirits falter, your game erodes, and your waning confidence leads your shots astray.
At the outset, it looked as if Murray, with the hometown crowd at his back and everything to gain in his ever-tightening rivalry with the ATP No. 1, would use this event to make a late bid for recognition if not ranking as the best player in the game. He broke Djokovic in the very first game, and served extremely well while rallying with great precision to keep control until well into the second set.
But this was not one of those neat matches in which, at some point, the momentum neatly swings from one man to another, and that’s the end of it. In fact, you could throw out the first two sets as tedious prelude.
Sure, Djokovic finally turned the early tide when he saw his first break point in the sixth game of the second set, making the most of it thanks to Murray’s bold-but-unwise decision to try a serve-and-volley point that backfired. But that breakthrough didn’t give Djokovic control of the match. It did enable him, however, to get onto even footing and force a one-set match—one he was by no means assured of winning, judging by how quickly Murray held the first service game of the final set thanks to a series of very un-Djokovic-like service-return errors.
That commanding start made Murray’s letdown in his very next service game all the more puzzling. Serving at 1-1, he immediately fell behind 0-40, fending off one break point but making a backhand error on the next one to present Djokovic with the break.
Djokovic almost ran away with it after a quick hold. Serving at 1-3, Murray fell behind love-30, but after dispatching a break point he ultimately won the 10-minute game. He fell into trouble again after another quick Djokovic hold, but once again saved the service game to trail 3-4. Then, he quickly jumped to a 40-15 lead against Djokovic’s next service game and converted the break for 4-all.
Thus, most of the third set could be tossed out as prelude as well.
But keep in mind that this is classic Murray stuff. Call it his “moth to flame” relationship with defeat, or merely a child-like desire to play with matches. Whatever the case, Djokovic is the wrong man to put opposite yourself if you insist on playing that game.
Following two holds, Murray started the 11th game with far too loose play, and Djokovic made him pay. Although Murray hit an ace at 15-40, he then threw in a forehand error off Djokovic’s next service return and left us with an image of his arm raised menacingly, ready to hurl his racquet into the ground.
That image lingered as Djokovic served out the match with ease. It’s the perfect illustration of Murray’s ongoing struggle to iron out the emotional and mental ups and downs that make him so unpredictable, and always leave him vulnerable against a player of Djokovic’s class.