In nearly two weeks since the Year’s first Grand Slam Tournament began at Melbourne, the most consistent tennis has come from either the top seed Novak Djokovic or the sixth seed Murray. Match after match, they have played with renewed vigor and an unerring focus. Murray displayed that against Berdych on Thursday without getting influenced by media reports that Berdych had been too good against Rafael Nadal or that he was yet to drop a set in the entire tournament. Even earlier, the Scotsman had been clinical in his matches against Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios and always looked headed to the final. The same thing is true with Djokovic. He had some weak moments in his quarterfinal match against Luxemburg’s Gilles Muller though he won that match in straight sets but other than that the Serb dished out great performance in all his matches. Against Raonic too, Djokovic held an upper hand and didn’t allow the Canadian to break him even once in the 2-hour duel. All in all, the world no.1 has continued to play like a champion. Yesterday night the Serb came through a five-set battle to advance to his fifth Australian Open final by beating defending champion Stan Wawrinka, who made an emotional exit after a 31/2-hour battle with a relieved Djokovic. On Sunday, he will have the most crucial showdown of the Australian Open with Scotsman Andy Murray.
The semifinal between Djokovic and Wawrinka was riddled with 118 unforced errors, of which the Serb committed 49. The intensity of yesterday’s match was far below the 5-hour fourth-round battle that Djokovic won against the Swiss in 2013. They met last year as well but it was Wawrinka, who won. Therefore, it was a sweet revenge for Djokovic. The first set was utterly scratchy with both players failing to inspire the viewers. They held their serves as a routine exercise, there were no rallies, they committed a combined number of 26 unforced errors and just 9 winners. Wawrinka managed to break Djokovic in the seventh game but the Serb broke right back in the next as Wawrinka committed a flurry of unforced errors. The set was ultimately decided by the tie-break, in which the Swiss couldn’t manage to control his errors. In the next set, however, it was the Serb, who played indifferently and lost it easily at 3-6. The game kept shifting the momentum throughout and the two players exchanged sets once again; the Serb taking the third 6-4 while Wawrinka did the same in the fourth. However, at the start of the fourth set, Djokovic looked like taking the match, when he jumped to a 2-0 lead with a break of Wawrinka’s service. But the Swiss came back forcefully to break back by taking advantage of a Djokovic double fault, followed by three bad errors on the trot. Wawrinka mounted pressure and broke the Serb again in the seventh game as Djokovic committed another four straight unforced errors. Then he took the fourth set with the same margin, which the Serb created in the third set. At 2-2, it was left to the decider. The Serb returned powerfully in the final set and didn’t allow a single game to the defending champion and closed the match 7-6, 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0. In the entire match, Djokovic converted 7 out of 17 break opportunities while Wawrinka’s count was 5 from 8. The difference was Wawrinka couldn’t convert those, which mattered in the first set. In the decider, Wawrinka’s killer one-handed backhand transformed from an invaluable asset to a dangerous liability.
On Sunday, Djokovic and Murray will begin with their 2-2 head-to-head count in the majors. With both competitors at their best now, it could be an interesting duel. Murray will have the advantage of two day’s rest but the surface suits Djokovic better. In tennis, the form and the temperament on the day of the match becomes a dictating factor but if the two finalists continue to exhibit their run in the tournament thus far, it would be anybody’s game on Sunday.
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