As soon as the draw came out for the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, the tennis world was hoping for an Andy Murray-Novak Djokovic final, between the two best players in the world, and they have certainly got their wish.
World number one Andy Murray is currently riding a 28-match winning streak and the three-time Grand Slam champion has not dropped a set throughout the tournament, whereas, Novak Djokovic, the defending champion survived a scare in his semifinal match with Fernando Verdasco.
The Serb dominated the first half of the ATP World Tour season which seen him clinch a record-equaling sixth Australian Open title, followed by titles in Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and most importantly at the French Open where he finally completed the Career Grand Slam.
Ivan Lendl is back on Murray's coaching team, and an incredible second half to the 2016 campaign saw Murray overtake Djokovic as the world number one by winning Wimbledon for the second time, Shanghai, Paris and the ATP World Tour Finals for the first time in his career.
Boris Becker, who was part of Djokovic's coaching team for over three years is no longer a part of his team but during the Serb's tenure with the multiple-time Grand Slam champion, Djokovic won all four Grand Slam titles at least once under the tutelage of Becker.
Murray's route to the final
The top seed began his 2017 campaign against 2013 Australian Open quarterfinalist Jeremy Chardy, and it was a comfortable opening set for the Brit, but the second set was closer, nonetheless, Murray prevailed in straight sets, 6-0, 7-6 (2) to get his quest for a third title in Doha on track. In the second round, Murray had a tough test with Jurgen Melzer's younger brother, Gerard, and the Austrian played some good tennis but the former two-time champion ultimately came through, 7-6 (4), 7-5 to reach the quarterfinals.
Murray faced a former top tenner in Nicolas Almagro in the quarterfinals, and it was a 7-6 (4), 7-5 for the world number one but it was another test that Murray came through. For the first time this week Murray wasn't taken to a tiebreak in the semifinals, and he recorded his seventh consecutive victory over third seed Tomas Berdych.
Djokovic's route to the final
The defending champion had a sluggish start in his first round match with Jan-Lennard Struff by finding himself a double break down in the opening set, however, the Serb fought back and eventually won in straight sets, 7-6 (1), 6-3 to get his title defence off to a good start. Djokovic recorded another straight sets win over Horacio Zeballos, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals, and in the quarterfinals, the former world number one defeated his good friend Radek Stepanek, 6-3, 6-3.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion had an almighty scare against former top ten player, Fernando Verdasco in the semifinals, and the Spaniard was displaying scintillating tennis in the opening two sets, reminiscent of his performance against former world number one Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open last year.
It seemed that Djokovic was going to lose the match in straight sets, as the former world number one was a set down and in the second set tiebreak, the second seed faced five match points but saved them all, and eventually came through, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-3, in a match that he admitted that he should have lost.
Murray and Djokovic will engage in battle for the 36th time in their careers, and it will be the 19th time that the duo will meet in finals with the former world number one leading 10-8. The Serb has dominated their rivalry by having a commanding 24-11 lead in their overall meetings, he also leads Djokovic 19-8 on hard courts, 5-1 on clay but Murray leads 2-0 on grass, and the Serb leads 8-2 in Grand Slam matches.
Djokovic won their first three meetings on hard courts in the third round of the 2006 Mutua Madrid Open in three sets, he followed this up with two straight sets wins in the semifinals in Indian Wells and Miami, and the Serb won their fourth consecutive meeting and first on clay in the third round of the 2008 Monte Carlo.
Murray would go on to win their next three meetings with a straight sets win in the quarterfinals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto in 2008, 6-3, 7-6 (7), followed by a victory in their first final at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5). The three-time Grand Slam champion would win their meeting in the final of the Miami Open, 6-2, 7-5 in 2009.
In 2011, the duo met at a Grand Slam for the first time, and it was in the final of the Australian Open, in which Djokovic would win for the second time in his career in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. The Serb recorded his sixth victory over Murray in the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia which was a close encounter with Djokovic winning, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (2). Murray's fourth victory over Djokovic was in the final in Cincinnati once again in 2011 with the Brit taking the first set 6-4 but Djokovic retired 3-0 down in the second set.
The top two seeds met seven times in 2012 with Djokovic leading 4-3 in that department. The Serb won their five-set semifinal epic en route to clinching his second consecutive Australian Open title coming out on top, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 7-5. Murray would get his revenge a few weeks later in the semifinals in Dubai in straight sets but Djokovic would win their meeting in the final of Miami in straight sets, Murray would claim their next two meetings in the semifinals of the London Olympics, 7-5, 7-5, and Murray defeated Djokovic in a Grand Slam tournament for the first time to win his first Grand Slam title at the US Open in five sets. The world number two would win their final two meetings of that year by saving five match points in the final in Shanghai and in the round-robin stage of the ATP World Tour Finals.
Surprisingly, the duo only met twice in 2013, and it was in two Grand Slam finals at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Djokovic defeated Murray for the third time in an Australian Open final, and Murray won his second Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4. After that defeat to Murray at Wimbledon, Djokovic would embark on an eight-match winning streak over Murray that would last for two years. Djokovic dominated Murray in their quarterfinal meetings in Miami and the US Open in 2014 along with straight sets wins in the semifinals of Beijing and in the quarterfinals at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion defeated Murray for the fourth time in the Australian Open final in 2015, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-0, followed by a three-set victory in the final of the Miami Open, five-set win in the semifinals of the French Open in 2015. Finally, Murray got over the line and snapped his eight-match losing streak over Djokovic in the final of the Coupe Rogers in Montreal in three sets but the Serb would re-assert his authority in their meetings by winning their next four consecutive encounters in the semifinals in Shanghai, final in the Paris Masters in 2015 and for the fourth time, Djokovic defeated Murray in an Australian Open final in 2016 to clinch a record-equalling sixth title in Melbourne, and it was a three set victory for the Serb in Madrid ending Murray's title defence in the process.
Murray would get his revenge a week later by ending Djokovic's reign as the two-time defending champion in Rome, however, the duo met in their third clay court season in 2016 in the final of the French Open for the first time, and it was the first time that Djokovic beat Murray in a Grand Slam final, other than the Australian Open as Murray has got the better of the second seed in Wimbledon and the US Open finals.
Djokovic came back from a set down to defeat the Brit in four sets to complete the Career Grand Slam but Murray won their final meeting in 2016 at the ATP World Tour Finals to end the year as the world number one for the first time in his career.
Who wins the Championship?
Both players will be desperate to win this match heading into the Australian Open, which will give them some confidence to beat their rivalry at an early stage. Murray will feel that this will be his best chance to win the Australian Open again as the three-time Grand Slam champion has been on an incredible run since Wimbledon. However, Djokovic always peaks at the Australian Open, and he has won an incredible six titles in nine years.
Djokovic will be desperate to return to the top of the rankings but he knows that it will be extremely tough to get back up there. Murray's been playing the better tennis out of the two players, therefore, The Serb will need to serve well in this match, and his blistering forehands will need to be firing on all cylinders, moreover, Murray will need to make sure he serves well too as both players are quality returners, and they will exchange in plenty of baseline rallies, and both players like to implement the drop shot and lob to their game.
It will be an intriguing encounter to see where the two players are at, and what a way to start the 2017 season with the top two players in the world battling it out for an ATP 250 level title. The Serb will want to prove critics wrong by defeating Murray, and he will have joy ending Murray's 28-match winning streak in the process.
This match will take place on Centre Court at 6 pm local time, and the tennis world will be watching to see who comes out on top in the battle of the 29-year-olds, and top two players in the world.
Prediction: Djokovic in three sets