Friday, 28 January 2011

Djokovic & Murray put friendship on hold.

Andy Murray & Novak Djokovic
Andy Murray has beaten Novak Djokovic in their last three meetings, but lost the previous four. 
Photograph: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images 
It is almost impossible to consider the career of Novak Djokovic without mentioning Andy Murray at the same time. As the pair prepared to meet in the final of the Australian Open hereon Sunday, they have been reminded of their first meeting, as 13-year-olds in a junior tournament in the French town of Tarbes a decade ago. Born within a week of each other – Murray is the elder of the two – their paths seem to have been inextricably linked ever since. In that first meeting it was Murray who came out on top; "I won 6-0, 6-1 maybe, but a lot's changed since then," he said. "It will be just a bit tougher than that on Sunday."

Both were stars as juniors but as they began to make their moves into the senior ranks, Djokovic leapt ahead. "We played each other up until we were 15 and then he improved a lot faster than I did," Murray said. "Then I managed to catch up. It wasn't really until we got back on the tour that we started playing together a lot and practicing together again."

So sibling-like has their rivalry been over the years they could almost be brothers. Like many brothers, they have had their squabbles but when they meet in the final they will do so as firm friends and with an enormous amount of respect for how far each other has come.

Djokovic, it should be remembered, broke into the world's top 100 before Murray and then pipped him for a top-10 spot. Murray was never far behind but the big difference came here in 2008 when the Serb beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to win his first grand slam title. It is something Murray has been craving for a long time and his defeats by Roger Federer in the final of the US Open in 2008 and here last year hurt badly.

The pair have played each other seven times on tour, with Djokovic leading 4-3, but Murray has won the last three. "They were big moments for me," Murray said. "I won against him a couple of times in Masters Series finals – when I won my first Masters Series in Cincinnati, that was a big win for me."

It is almost two years since they last played each other. Being No3 and No4 for so long meant they have usually been in opposite halves of the draw and with Federer and Rafael Nadal so dominant in recent times, their chances to meet have been rare. When they were playing each other regularly in 2007 and 2008, their friendship suffered but it has been noticeable in the past few months how much time they have spent together on the practice court, something that has clearly been of benefit to each other.

"I was kind of letting it go and letting him feel what he wanted to feel about our relationship, as friends, if he thought we should be friends regularly and hang out more or not," Djokovic said. "That was more or less on him because I always liked him as a person and we grew up together playing the junior events, so we knew each other really well and had a lot of fun.

"But then we basically came up to the top of men's tennis at the same time and we were rivals. I guess it's that rivalry and matches you play [that changes things]. Right now I feel we are again getting closer because we grew up. We know that we are rivals, that's obvious. But off the court it doesn't mean that we can't have dinner or play golf or things like that."

Murray said that the fact they had not played each other on tour in the past two years meant that they had been able to reconnect, not just on the practice court. "We always message each other if we do well in tournaments. He is a very nice guy, good fun, nice to be around. I will be putting that to one side on Sunday but hopefully we will be friends afterwards."

With no Nadal or Federer to beat, Murray will feel this is his chance. For Djokovic, a second grand slam title would be just reward for how he has lifted his game to a new level in the past six months. Something has to give but the Serb is a generous soul and if he has to lose, he would rather it be to Murray. "He has all he needs to have to be a grand slam champion and he works hard," Djokovic said. "I wish him to win, definitely, and the next chance he has I am sure he's going to take."

Courtesy: Guardian

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