As Andy Murray pointed out, there are not many men who have reached five Australian Open finals. He is one of a very select group, then.
He reached his fifth Melbourne final yesterday with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2 win over Milos Raonic. This was Murray’s best match yet at the Open by a considerable margin and it earned his fifth ticket to the very sharp end of the tournament. But standing in his way tomorrow will be Novak Djokovic, another man who has reached five finals.
The problem for Murray is that Djokovic has never lost on the last day of the tournament and he has never won. And in three of those previous finals, he has been beaten by the Serb. Just to add to the pressure, no man has ever lost five Australian finals and Murray does not want to be the one to rewrite that particular chapter of the record books.
“I don’t think many people are expecting me to win,” Murray said. “I have to just believe in myself, have a solid game plan, and hopefully execute it and play well.
“The most important thing for me is to sustain my level for long enough, not just for one set here or there, a few games here or there. I need to do it for a very long period if I want to get the win. That’s my challenge on Sunday.”
That is always his challenge when he plays the world No 1. Djokovic has lost only six matches in the past 15 months as he has taken a stranglehold at the top of the rankings. But one of those losses was to Murray in the Canadian Open final last summer. That will be the starting point for Amélie Mauresmo, Murray’s coach, as she prepares the Scot for tomorrow’s match.
“That’s what we’re going to talk about tomorrow and before the match,” she said. “So at least that’s something that was I think really important for him to be able to win against Novak again since the Wimbledon final and he did that in August so we’ll see.”
Murray and his old foe have met 30 times in the past (Djokovic leads 21-9) and since the Wimbledon final of 2013, the Scot has won only once in 12 meetings. He pushed him close at the French Open in the semi-finals, and he has had his chances in other encounters, but somehow Djokovic always found a way to win.
“Novak does everything so well,” Mauresmo said. “His consistency is incredible and he’s capable of also raising the level towards the end of grand slams, the way he’s been doing it the last few times, so yeah it is obviously right now the biggest task in tennis to beat him in a grand slam final. Stan [Wawrinka] did it last year at Roland Garros. We have to be inspired from that as well.”
Murray ought to be inspired by the way he fended off the impressive challenge of Raonic, as well. The huge and powerful Canadian has been playing the best tennis of his life this season and with his massive serve, a new-found willingness to come into the net and the ability to crush the ball from the baseline, he sprinted out of the blocks against the Scot.
But the break he earned in the opening game of the match was the only one he got all night. Murray clung on to his serve like a limpet after that. His second serve, now beefed up and posing a threat, shut Raonic out whenever the Canadian thought he had a chance while Murray’s returns were wearing the big man down. Murray was fired up when he needed to be and downright cussed when he had to be but, for the most part, he was just focused on the point in front of him.
“I was starting to hit the ball better in the third set,” he said. “I was hitting the ball cleaner from the back of the court. I wasn’t allowing him to dictate as many of the points as I was at the beginning.
“I just tried to keep going, keep making as many returns as possible, and continue to make it difficult for him. Eventually I was able to engage in more baseline rallies and dictate more of those points, which made him do more of the running.”
A hint of doubt from Raonic at the end of the second set allowed Murray to grab the break of serve and, with it, the set. A brilliant tie-break by the Canadian secured the third set but after that, it all went wrong for Raonic.
At the start of the fourth set, Raonic called for the trainer. He had been hobbled by a groin strain and even though he did everything he could to keep pace with the world No 2, Murray won 11 of the next 15 games to close out his win and reach that fifth final.
“Five finals is a great achievement,” Murray said. “You can’t take that away from me. I should be happy about that. There’s very few players that will have made five Australian Open finals, so I have to be proud of that achievement. Obviously when you get to the final you’re disappointed if you don’t win. But I’ve obviously played very good tennis here.
“I have a very good shot if I play my best tennis,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past really. It’s about what happens on Sunday. There’s no reason it’s not possible for me to win.”