Originally posted on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 9/9/12

Murray’s Keys to Victory:

1. Follow the game plan- Murray has said that he worked out different strategies with his new coach Ivan Lendl for how to play against each of Murray’s top 3 rivals. This has done two things. It has been effective in helping Murray compete against each of them. But, more importantly, it has given Murray a new level of confidence against those top opponents in big matches, something which he was lacking before. I’m not privy to what the particular plan is against Djokovic, but as long as Murray can stick to it he will be able to play his best competitive tennis for the entire match.

2. Don’t choke- This seems like a given, but it really is something to watch out for for Murray. This is his fifth Grand Slam final, all of which have been against either Federer or Djokovic. That could be enough to hurt anyone’s confidence. But Murray didn’t really show up in the first three of those finals. He played well but was beaten by Federer at Wimbledon this year but really showed up to dominate Federer in the Olympic Gold Medal match. Still, if he comes out into this match nervous or tentative, he will find himself in a very deep hold very quickly.

3. Force Djokovic back- Djokovic’s biggest strength right now is the depth that he gets on his groundstrokes. He forces his opponents to stay behind the baseline and play the match from positions where they cannot attack well. Murray is fine with that though. Murray loves playing his defensive tennis from well behind the baseline if necessary. The problem is that he cannot give up too much court to Djokovic. He cannot keep balls short or even marginally deep. Anything that Murray leaves even slightly short will be crushed and force Murray into an awkward position. Which is usually okay for Murray, who can win points and wear his opponents down from awkward positions. Djokovic, though, won’t get worn down and will not lose many points once he force Murray well out of position. Murray can play this match behind the baseline, but he has to force Djokovic to do the same. He needs very good depth to pin Djokovic back so that Novak doesn’t have any good positions from which to hit great shots.

4. Use the slice- Djokovic is a very clen ballstriker, especially if the weather cooperates. Murray cannot afford to let Djokovic set up and lean into his shots. He needs to give Djokovic a lot of awkward balls to handle. That means using the slice, changing pace, and keeping his shots varied so that Djokovic can’t get into any real offensive rhtyhm. Djokovic is still a very dangerous defensive player, but he is at least beatable when you force him to play defensive tennis. Murray will not have a chance of winning this match if he makes it his defense against Djokovic’s offense. He needs this to be a defensive tennis match on both sides.

Djokovic’s Keys to Victory:

1. No nervousness- I know this also seems like a bit of a silly point, but Djokovic is in a position in this match that he’s rarely in during the late stages of Slams. He is the clear favorite to win this tournament. That’s something that has never quite been true before. Twice in the last two years when he met Federer as a strong favorite in a Slam (last year at Roland Garros and this year at Wimbledon) he could not quite find his rhythm and lost the match. In his semifinal match, he looked tentative and nervous to start against Ferrer, and it cost him a set. He cannot afford to do the same against Murray. Nor can he afford to expect Murray to be a pushover in this match like he has in Grand Slam finals in the past. Djokovic will be forced to play this match from a mental standpoint that he is not used to playing from. If he lets that get to him then he could be in trouble.

2. Win free points- Murray has a clear advantage in this match in that he played his semifinal match on Saturday while Djokovic was grinding things out in a tough match for two hours against David Ferrer on Sunday. Murray will be fresher. Now, Djokovic often looks like he could run around and chase down balls on court forever, but at some point it will have to affect him. He needs to win shorter points whenever possible. That means big serves and sometimes even just going for winners on the return of serve. I don’t think we’ve seen Djokovic actually get fatigued since he cut the gluten out of his diet, but if this match is a 4-hour grinder, having that extra day of rest is a definite advantage for Murray.

3. Smart net play- Murray loves drawing his opponents in to net, whether it’s with short slices or with the drop shot. And you can expect that he will do that a fair amount because Djokovic is not known for his stellar play at the net. Djokovic did make some smart plays against Ferrer, but I’m sure it’s not at all something that he enjoys doing. He will need to make some good plays at the net early in the match to send a signal to Murray that drawing him in to the net will not be an effective strategy to pursue throughout the match.

Prediction: This one is tough. This match could hinge on so much. Windy weather would give Murray a clear advantage. If the match lasts a long time Murray has an advantage. And there is really no way to predict what mental approach each of the players will take towards the match. Djokovic has looked more dominant than Murray all tournament though, with the exception of his first set against Ferrer. But after that first set, Djokovic was back to his nearly-untouchable self, even though Ferrer was playing well. If Djokovic comes out at that level then Murray will be hard-pressed to pose a challenge. Then again, if Djokovic comes out the way he did in the first set against Ferrer, Murray could win this match easily. Ultimately, though, I think I have to go with the player who has been more consistent and more dominant all tournament long.
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