Andy Murray will look to defend his Mutua Madrid Open title on Sunday against the man who has been the bane of his existence in the big moments, Novak Djokovic. The Brit will look to snag a rare win over the world number one when the two clash on clay for the first time this season. It will be the 32nd clash of their rivalry.
The match will take place at 6:30 pm local time (12:30 pm EST).
How they got here
Andy Murray has been getting stronger with every match. He had a tough go of things in the opening round against Radek Stepanek, dropping the second set, but since then the defending champion has been all-but unchallenged. He cruised past Gilles Simon and Tomas Berdych in straight sets before going up against the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, in the semifinals. However, not even red-hot Nadal could stop Murray, as the Brit got the job done at the business end of both sets, emerging victorious in straight sets.
Novak Djokovic has been the opposite, as his matches have gotten tougher as the tournament progressed. While the world number one has yet to drop a set, he’s been forced to hold off some spirited fights in the last two rounds he dominated his first two matches against Borna Coric and Roberto Bautista Agut, before resisting a challenge from Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals. Kei Nishikori also gave Djokovic a run for his money in the semifinals, but the Serbian managed to wear down the Japanese in straight sets.
Djokovic generally dominates this rivalry, leading the head-to-head 22-9. He’s also won 11 of their last 12 meetings dating back to 2014, including their last three matches. The Serbian has also never lost to Murray on clay in three matches. However, their last two meetings on clay went the distance, including last year’s French Open semifinals, when a delay arguably cost Murray momentum entering the fifth set. Murray has not won a set against Djokovic since beating the Serbian last August in the Rogers Cup final.
While Djokovic is undefeated against Murray on clay, the Brit has been at his best on the dirt in Madrid. He’s won nine matches in a row in the Spanish capital. The pair actually have the same number of titles on the dirt in Madrid, with one apiece. The clay in Madrid is about as fast as clay comes (mainly due to the altitude in the Spanish capital). This probably works to Murray’s advantage, as it allows his to step up in the court and dictate rallies. That’s exactly what he’s done to Nadal two years in a row, and what he will need to do to Djokovic in the final. The Serbian may be at his most vulnerable at this venue, as seen by the way players like Nishikori or even the clay-hating Raonic were able to push him.
Will Djokovic rise to the occasion?
For all he has advanced to the final without dropping a set, Djokovic has not been all that convincing so far in Madrid. A few more forehands over the net and Milos Raonic could have easily turned the tide on him the quarterfinals. Another point here or there and Nishikori could have been the one in the final. So far, Djokovic has done just enough to win. However, Murray has been red-hot entering the final. He will need to be in championship form if he wants to grit out a title in his return to the Spanish capital. His level needs to be higher if her wants to guarantee victory.
Can Murray attack with consistency?
The game plan for Murray is simple. He needs to be the player dictating the rallies. And he needs to do it start to finish. He cannot give points away and he needs to make Djokovic pay for any opportunities he gifts his opponent. Murray is more than capable of doing that and has been very efficient so far in Madrid, including making Rafael Nadal pay for multiple poor shots in the semifinals. However, the key for Murray is to keep his foot on the gas. Against Nadal, he blew 5-2 leads in both sets. He needs to close out Djokovic when he gets the chance, because if he lets up, it’s unlikely that he will get a second chance.
Djokovic will win if: if he controls the rallies. Murray cannot beat Djokovic in a defensive war. Djokovic does not have to necessarily dominate every rally, but he needs to prevent Murray from executing his strategy.
Murray will win if: he attacks and punishes Djokovic. The world number one has been giving opponents chances in his recent matches. Lucky for him, the could not take advantage. Not only does Murray need to convert those opportunities, but he needs to create as many as possible by being on offence. Again, he cannot win a defensive battle. The best way to do that is to dictate and attack Djokovic at every opportunity.
Prediction: Djokovic in three sets
If Novak Djokovic is good at one thing, it’s not letting the ball past him and from a defensive position, putting opponents in positions where they cannot effectively attack him. After the offensive onslaught of Milos Raonic and the defensive grind of Kei Nishikori in consecutive rounds, the Serb has seen it all. Murray has had a slightly easier go of it and will have a tougher time countering the world number one. He may push Djokovic harder than usual, but the Serb will do what he’s done all week; find a way to win.