October 31, 2014
Novak Djokovic passed his first big tennis test since becoming a father, brushing aside Andy Murray 7-5, 6-2 in Paris.
After Roger Federer’s surprising 6-7, 5-7 defeat to Milos Raonic earlier in the evening, it seems that normal service has been resumed in the fight for top spot, though there is plenty of tennis still to be played – especially in London.
Djokovic said: ‘Obviously it helps me in the battle between Roger and me [for world number one] that I progressed to the semis here and Roger didn’t – but there are a lot of points to be played for in London.’
As for Murray, Novak said: ‘We have played so many times and we know what to expect – long, physical exchanges. Whoever is calmer in the big moments can prevail and that’s what happened.’
Murray remains a mystery. A strange lack of self-belief, a refusal to enter into meaningful psychological combat with his opponent. These were the elements of the Murray performance that will worry his fans after he had taken so many impressive strides to return to something approaching his best form in recent weeks.
Perhaps there was a sense of anticlimax after he qualified for the World Tour Finals in London. That had taken a supreme effort, after all. And the consolation is that Murray can rest up now and relax for a few extra days before he prepares for action at the O2 Arena in England’s capital.
But how can any player fall so flat when handed the chance to test a world number one who hasn’t played recently due to the birth of his son?
Murray failed to earn a single break point against the Djokovic serve during the first set, even though Novak was noticeably rusty. When the Serb looked vulnerable, Murray simply didn’t look sufficiently ruthless.
In truth, Djokovic had every right to believe he had broken Murray to go 5-3 ahead. Incredibly, however, the Scot was allowed to challenge a baseline call even after he had fired his next shot into the net. Understandably, Djokovic was furious at the injustice of the umpire’s decision and had to start all over again.
Under precious little pressure as he held serve to go 6-5, Novak then put the squeeze on Murray at just the right time. The Brit double-faulted to hand his opponent two set points and Djokovic duly accepted the second of those gifts to secure the opening set.
Murray looked as though his game was about to collapse at 0-1, 0-40 in the second. Somehow he clawed his way all the way back to win that game and then broke Djokovic in the very next. An irritable Djokovic threw his racquet to the floor and promptly apologised to the crowd. That should have signalled the start of a Murray comeback; and yet the confidence his best moments in the match should have generated simply didn’t materialise.
You can’t make 36 unforced errors against the finest player in the world and expect to make a big impression. Djokovic admitted: ‘ He made some double faults and he allowed me to come back [in the second set]. But he played seven or eight weeks in a row and he qualified for London so congratulations to Andy for that.’
Murray should come out a lot fresher but must be more ruthless if he wants to thrill his home fans in Britain. You can bet he will play better than this. But then again, so will Novak, now that he is back in the swing of things.
We can’t wait to see the giants of tennis clash in England. A warm welcome awaits at Wimbledon 2015 too. Buy your tickets here for Wimbledon, the biggest tournament of them all.