Thursday, February 26, 2015

DUBAI: Berdych claims 500th career victory with tough win over Bolelli

 Photo via Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Tomas Berdych refused to get dragged into a controversial conversation regarding the inaccuracy of Hawk-Eye or a questionable decision made by umpire Mohamed Lahyani, the Czech choosing instead to celebrate his 500th career win in peace.

Berdych, the No4 seed in Dubai, was taken the distance by Simone Bolelli on Wednesday before becoming just the eighth active player to hit the 500 victories mark, beating the in-form Italian 7-6 (7) 5-7, 6-0 in two hours and 24 minutes to advance to the quarter-finals.

It feels great. But we just talked about it last night with (my coach) Dani (Vallverdu), that I just need to really make sure that I keep my body fresh and let's make another 500. Let's try to chase Roger now,” Berdych said with a laugh.

This (1000 wins) is really something too far. It's a good sign, just try to keep hitting more and more and be strong for tomorrow. That's it.”

The match with Bolelli was a tight affair with neither player managing to make a break of serve for the first 24 games.

Berdych had two arguments with Lahyani during the match, the first came in the opening set where he was hoping to break for 5-4, but the other one had a greater effect late in the second set.

Serving to stay alive in set two at 5-6, 15-30, Berdych won a Hawk-Eye appeal but instead of being awarded the point, Lahyani called for a replay. A frazzled Berdych then double-faulted giving two set points to Bolelli, who took the set and levelled the match.

Berdych’s response was a 6-0 blitz in the decider and the 29-year-old admits it was a frustrating affair.

I would say that actually was needed for me. I felt that I need to put some steam out and get it done and probably lost the second set because of that. But the outcome, it's much better. I got the rhythm back. I had a great third set, and I think it was worth it,” said Berdych, who faces Sergiy Stakhovsky in the quarter-finals today.

Asked to discuss his arguments with Lahyani, Berdych said: “It's always going to be about the decision of the chair umpire. That's how we deal with that situation, so in the end I have to respect that.”

At one point, Berdych had looked like he was disagreeing with Hawk-Eye, but again the world No8 would not dwell on whether the technology was accurate or not.

I think it's quite silly to talk about it, because we all have to respect that. It doesn't work the way that whatever you see on the court that's what the Hawk Eye said, so it's how it is and it's better not to talk about it and just leave it as it is,” added the two-time Dubai runner-up.

DUBAI: Federer schools Verdasco to make the quarter-finals, Ilhan shocks Lopez

 Photo via Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Roger Federer impressed even himself with one of the most emphatic mid-match stretches in recent years when he won 20 points in a row to climb back from a break down against Fernando Verdasco on Wednesday night.

The six-time Dubai champion fell behind 0-3 early on in his second round against Verdasco, who was showcasing some ninja-like tennis, pulling off some incredible shots.

But down 1-4, Federer, buoyed by a loud crowd that resembled a Davis Cup audience, won 20 successive points, breaking the Spaniard twice to love to take the opening set in 30 minutes.

I didn't even know it happened until somebody told me afterwards,” Federer said of that remarkable sequence.

I remember when I broke him the second time around, I was like ‘was that a Love game the first time around already?’ I wasn't sure anymore. But then I forgot about it, because all I cared about was trying to stay ahead in the score, focus point for point, serve for serve.

Looking back it's quite a lot of points in a row. It's not the first time it's ever happened to me, but it's a great comeback because I did feel that Fernando was hitting the ball well and came out and played very committed, serving well, so you wouldn't expect that.”

Federer was playing some explosive tennis and put pressure on the Spanish lefty’s backhand any chance he got, which earned the No2 seed a break in the opening game of the second set.

But Verdasco tried not to go down without a fight and broke back. But Federer got the advantage he needed in the fifth game and it was suffice to close out the match 6-3, 6-3 in exactly one hour to set up a quarter-final with Frenchman Richard Gasquet.

I'm looking forward to playing against him,” Federer said of Gasquet, whom he has beaten in their last five showdowns.

Last time we played was Davis Cup final on that Sunday in front of that big crowd, and it was a lot of pressure. I think this time is going to be a bit more relaxed going in. He's had a great start to the season, also, winning a title and seems like he's playing well.

He had a tough one today, but that gave him probably a lot of match time and court time. We will see how he recovers, but we will play tomorrow night. That shouldn't be a problem.

I just love his backhand so it's always a pleasure playing against him.”

Gasquet, who sports one of the most beautiful one-handed backhands on the tour, recovered from a 2-4 deficit in the final set, saving a match point in the tiebreak, against Spanish No7 seed Roberto Bautista Agut to advance 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (6).

It was the second straight time Gasquet has had to climb from behind in a final set, having also pulled a Houdini act against Andreas Seppi in round one earlier this week.

Turkish qualifier, Marsel Ilhan (pictured right), ranked No104 in the world, delivered a huge upset over world No13 Feliciano Lopez, who is twice a runner-up in Dubai, ousting the Spanish lefty 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 to reach his first career ATP quarter-final.

In doubles, the Bryan brothers made a successful Middle East debut, eliminating Bautista Agut and Joao Sousa 6-2, 6-2 in the first round.

DUBAI: Djokovic sees himself in Murray's quarter-final opponent Borna Coric


Andy Murray will on Thursday in the quarter-finals take on talented teenager Borna Coric, a player which Novak Djokovic feels he sees himself in.

The world No1 spent time practicing with Coric last December in Dubai and feels a special connection to the 18-year-old Croat, who already has Rafael Nadal as one of the victims of his very short career.

He's definitely one of the most talented players right now the world. He beat Nadal in Basel four or five months ago, and since that tournament you can feel he has matured a lot. He feels comfortable playing with top players,” said Djokovic of Coric, who will be facing a top-10 player today for just the fourth time of his career.

I try to help him because I see, in a way, myself through him I've never felt that way when I practice with somebody as I felt with him. It's like playing myself. Very similar game.

Great fighting spirit, disciplined, focused, committed, confident, very young but confident, which is important.

I think he has a bright future if he is able to stay on the pathway he is on right now and be patient. He has a good team of people around him.”

Both Murray and Djokovic earned swift victories to reach the last eight but Coric escaped from the brink of defeat against Marcos Baghdatis, who was up a double break in the final set and served for the match at 5-3 before allowing the young Croat back in the match.

Baghdatis, a former Australian Open finalist, suffered from cramps and was forced to retire from the final set tiebreak at 4-4, allowing Coric to continue riding the wave of luck that has now seen him reach the quarter-finals as a lucky loser with this 6-4, 3-6, 6-6 (retired) two hour 56 minute battle.

After the match, a barefoot Baghdatis was seen hobbling with his wife Karolina Sprem and their daughter in tow, while an exhausted Coric was anxious to get to the locker room and start his recovery, hoping to get ready for a tough test against Murray, who destroyed Joao Sousa early on centre court, 6-0, 6-2 in 57 minutes.

Djokovic was just as impressive, easing past Kazakhstan’s Andrey Golubev 6-1, 6-2 in an hour.

The Serb faces zero break points and broke his opponent four times in a routine affair in front of a sellout centre court crowd.

More comfortable than yesterday, that's for sure,” Djokovic said. “Basically I didn't have as much pressure from the opponent's serve as I did last night. Having one match under my belt before today's encounter helped to feel a bit more comfortable to move around on the court quicker, and I tried to take away the time from my opponent today.”

Monday, February 23, 2015

DUBAI: Federer apologizes for upsetting Pakistani fans

 Photo via Roger Federer' Facebook page

Roger Federer concedes that he did not expect the backlash that resulted from him posting a photo of himself on Facebook holding the Indian cricket jersey, accompanied by the hash-tag “#BleedBlue”.

The Swiss’ post upset Pakistani fans the world over and a letter, written by a Pakistan native, who is a self-proclaimed Federer fan, published on the Express Tribune in which he explained why he will no longer be supporting the 17-time major champion due to the photo, has gone viral.

Federer, who says he only follows cricket when he’s in Australia or sometimes in the UAE, admits he did not see the furor coming.

“It wasn’t the idea (to upset anyone). It was more of a Nike thing to be quite honest. It was a Nike campaign they had because I met some of the Indian players and I had just spent some time in India so they presented the shirt to me," Federer said in Dubai on Sunday.

"I support South Africa, everybody knows that. The idea wasn’t to spark any fire there. So I’m sorry that it did."

The letter, written by Sulaiman Ijaz, a PHD student at the University of Cambridge, said Federer’s move made his Pakistani fans feel “expendable”.

“After you posted the picture, I did an informal poll of the dozen biggest Pakistani Roger fans I know,” Ijaz wrote. “All very serious fans, mind you. Two of them were not bothered by the picture. But 10 of the 12 felt seriously hurt or betrayed. Six of those 10 said you had acted ‘like a sell-out’ and have stopped supporting you altogether.”

DUBAI: Berdych not content with long-time top-10 status


Tomas Berdych feels like he is making one last attempt to spark change in his game and career as he hopes to transition from being a regular top-10 player to a serious contender at majors and a challenger to the ‘Big Four’.

Berdych, who after beating Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open quarter-finals last month, is just one of two players – alongside Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - to beat every member of the ‘Big Four’ at a grand slam, hired Andy Murray’s former hitting partner Dani Vallverdu as his coach at the end of last season, concluding his six-year partnership with Tomas Krupa.

Linking up with Vallverdu has already started to pay dividends as Berdych started his 2015 season by making the final in Doha, the semis in Melbourne and the final in Rotterdam.

While it can be seen as one of his best starts ever to a season, Berdych wants more.

I feel really good. I would have felt much better if I had at least one title under my belt, but I think there are many new things that I am trying to put into my game and I can already feel that they are working well, they are successful,” said Berdych, a runner-up in Dubai the last two years.

So, it’s a good sign and gives me belief and promises good things for the future.”

At 29, Berdych has spent the last four and a half years consistently in the top-10. A year after teaming up with Krupa in 2009, he made his first and only grand slam final, finishing as runner-up at Wimbledon.

He feels his decision to change his coach was both bold yet necessary.

The thing I felt is that I got to stage where my team could not be helpful in the way I wanted them to be. So I felt I needed something different. I needed a change if I want to get better,” said the world No8.

It’s nice to spend four, five years among the top-10 but the years are coming and this could be my last opportunity to change something and try to get higher or try to aim for bigger results.

That’s why I made this decision. Bringing Dani to my team, I believe he is the right person with all the experience that he has.”

Berdych says Vallverdu has been very helpful when it comes to having the right tactics on court but the Czech also knows he must work on his fitness if he plans on causing any real damage.

I think it is always going to start with the fitness. I am a tall guy, quite a heavy guy and when you want to compete with guys like Andy, Novak (Djokovic), Rafa (Nadal) and Roger (Federer), you are going to have to be extremely fit and prepared for that,” says Berdych.

So that’s the reasons why I am saying you cannot just play at that level for a set or two when you are at the slams. You have to be ready to play at that level for five sets, no matter what’s going on.”

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Federer glad Serena Williams is going back to Indian Wells


Roger Federer is happy Serena Williams will be returning to Indian Wells for the first time since 2001, after the American world No1 decided to end her boycott of the tournament.

Williams hadn’t set foot at Indian Wells since she was booed during the 2001 final, where her father Richard was also the subject of racial slurs, as spectators accused him of deciding the previous semi-final match between his daughters Serena and Venus, who reportedly withdrew with an injury minutes before it was due to start (Venus later said she had told organisers much earlier but it was only announced late).

Serena made a surprise decision recently, announcing she would be returning to the tournament in the California desert. Her sister Venus will not be joining her however.

Federer, who begins his title defence in Dubai on Monday against Mikhail Youzhny, was asked about his thoughts on Serena’s choice to go back. He said: “I expected it to happen much earlier to be honest, especially as soon as Larry Ellison came in.

"At some stage I thought they would have talked about it and worked it out in some shape or form and just say like ‘what happened before, let’s move on’.

I understand it was a big deal for her but it’s nice seeing that she’s moving on. It’s such a nice tournament and… would she have played the last 14 years she probably would have won at least five, 10 times the event. Maybe cost her many weeks at world No1.

If you think about it, if you would have added those 500 to 1000 points throughout, so it was a big sacrifice from her side. And I think it’s nice to see her back in Indian Wells I must say.”

Serena had announced her decision in an exclusive column published on Time.com earlier this month.

It has been difficult for me to forget spending hours crying in the Indian Wells locker room after winning in 2001, driving back to Los Angeles feeling as if I had lost the biggest game ever — not a mere tennis game but a bigger fight for equality,” Serena wrote.

I’m fortunate to be at a point in my career where I have nothing to prove. I’m still as driven as ever, but the ride is a little easier. I play for the love of the game. And it is with that love in mind, and a new understanding of the true meaning of forgiveness, that I will proudly return to Indian Wells in 2015.”​

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

DUBAI - Petkovic: Top-10 return a symbol of my journey


Tennis is often a confusing place. This week, Andrea Petkovic is supposed to be celebrating her ceremonious return to the top-10 for the first time in almost three years, and her title victory in Antwerp last Sunday.

Instead, Petkovic spent Tuesday throwing her racquet in frustration as she lost not one but two matches in singles and doubles in Dubai.

As she walked off the court Tuesday night following her doubles defeat alongside Mandy Minella, exhausted and ready to collapse into bed, Petkovic still had enough in her to philosophize over her journey back into the top-10.

After making three grand slam quarter-finals in 2011 to enter the top-10 for the first time, the charismatic German was plagued with injuries and she saw her ranking plummet to as low as 465.

But Petkovic’s story is not just about a comeback from injury. In her eyes, it is a coming of age tale that saw her question everything before recapturing her will to fight back.

It probably means more to me than to other people. Not even because of the number just for me it’s more a symbol of how I came back,” Petkovic told me of her top-10 return.

Because when I was top-10 by the end of 2011 I had so many hopes and dreams for 2012. And then they sort of got crushed by my injuries.

At first I blamed everybody else and I blamed destiny and god and whoever and it took me a long time to put it behind me and move forward.

I was still concerned with questions ‘why did it happen to me and so on’. And so once I came through this questioning and just put it behind me and moved forward, I had the energy to start a comeback again.

So being back in the top-10, for me it’s not about being 10 or nine or 11 or 12, it’s a symbol of my journey I’ve had behind me. Now that I’ve reached it, maybe that’s why also my energy was really low today.”


Indeed the 27-year-old looked completely drained in both her matches yesterday. She played in Australia, Germany, and Belgium in the last three weeks and after picking up her trophy in Belgium on Sunday, she arrived in Dubai on Monday with less than a day to prepare for her opener, which she lost to Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas 7-5, 6-3. She paid credit to her opponent but said her legs felt like “gummy balls” and that she couldn’t look through her eyes.

I was also furious. When you’re tired you’re just angry and I couldn’t control myself. It was a horrible day for me but it’s okay,” she admits.

Moving forward, Petkovic is keen on not falling into old patterns.

I think it also comes with experience and with age. It was just important for me to learn to listen to my body. When it’s too much, when it’s just muscle pain, when it’s maybe an injury, when I need to take care of things. I learnt to schedule better, to plan some breaks and I’m just practicing smarter,” she says.

I’m not practicing as much anymore but with more quality. And I know the things that work for me and the things that help me to get in a good feeling pretty fast. I changed my nutrition. So there are a lot of factors but everything together just makes me a much healthier player.”

Asked whether she would go to the players’ party to perhaps celebrate her recent accomplishments and forget about her tough day on court, Petkovic said: “I would love to but I’m so tired I can’t go. I’m not sure I can even take a shower now. I think I’m just going to drop into my bed and hope to die for one night.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Q&A: Hingis and Paes talk Australian Open, Navratilova and Wawrinka


She is the woman who can’t keep away from the tennis court and he is the man of a 100 doubles partners. Martina Hingis and Leander Paes teamed up for the first time in their storied careers to win the Australian Open mixed doubles title in Melbourne.

The Indian-Swiss pair now collectively own a stunning 31 grand slam trophies. It is the second straight major final Hingis has reached, having placed runner-up with Flavia Pennetta at the US Open last September, and the Swiss former world No1 has now captured a first grand slam trophy since coming out of a retirement for a second time two years ago.

Hingis and Paes caught up with the media at Melbourne Park to discuss their successful debut and much more.

Martina, what does it mean to you to be tasting success here so many years after your first visit to this tournament? 
Yeah, no, in the ceremony my voice became really little. After 20 years being back on that court, like I said in my speech, who would have thought. It’s not even like the cherry on top, it’s more than that to be there and to be able to hold another trophy with Leander. It’s more than I could ever dream of, yeah.

Leander, what’s it like playing with Martina Hingis?
Leander Paes: To play with a partner like Martina is really easy. I would love to have played mixed doubles more often because I’ve got some great friendships and partners that I’ve played with. I played with two Martinas now. The both of them are two of the greatest athletes of women’s sport in the world, not just tennis. The thing I really love about Martina Navratilova and Martina Hingis is they are champions of life. For me what makes her great is that she’s a great human being.

How would you compare Martina Hingis and Martina Navratilova’s games? 
LP: When I played with Navratilova, a lot of it was chip and charge, front court tennis. With Hingis there’s all-court tennis. I think our styles are very compatible because she’s got far better returns than I do. Her technique is amazing. When I’m on the court with her, I’m always looking back to see how she’s reacting. There are certain technical things that Hingis has that is just so simple. Her preparation is so simple. It’s a fun things to learn from her. I’ve had 99 men’s doubles partners and Martina is my 26th mixed doubles partner.

What do you make of Martina Navratilova coaching Agnieskza Radwanska? 
 MH: I think it’s great. I think Martina was looking forward to be on the tour coaching because I think she has so much to give. So much experience. Next to probably Billie Jean King, they are the two for me who are the greatest players ever. I was even named after her. I think she can definitely bring something into Agnieszka’s game.

Leander, do you remember playing the Swiss in Davis Cup in Calcutta in 1993? India beat Switzerland 3-2… 
LP: That was a really special tie for me because I was playing a lot of singles back then and I knew that I had to beat Marc Rosset and Jakob Hlasek on a big day on grass, which was their favourite surface. There was so much rain the day before the doubles match and the ball wasn’t bouncing. One-set-all, 5-all in the tiebreak, Rosset hit a big serve and I managed to hit a chip lob return and Hlasek let the ball bounce, he hit a shot and because it bounced so low I went for the dive drop shot winner to give us the set point. And from there we won the tie.

Martina, you’ve turned to coaching before. Would you consider going back to it again?
MH: Yes sure, I still have time to do it again. I really enjoyed working with Sabine Lisicki and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. They’re two player with a lot of potential. But also that kind of helped me to get back into tennis because I felt that I still got game. I’m happy that I was able to prove it. With Sabine, we had a tough draw in Indian Wells against Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua but we lost in the super tiebreak. And then a week later we ended up winning in Miami so I thought ‘woah, not too bad’. So it gave me hope again to really focus only on playing. But coaching I can always do when I’m over 40 I guess.

Leander, you played doubles with Stan Wawrinka in Bercy, before the Davis Cup final last year. Do you think you were part of the success of the Swiss team in Davis Cup because Stan played a great doubles rubber in Lille?
LP: Stan is quite a unique personality. He’s got such great tennis ability, it’s amazing. I don’t think it would be fair for me to say this, maybe you would have to ask Stan this question. When we played in Paris-Bercy, we were talking about the mentality of how you play on the court, playing aggressive and being more focused on the big points. When I watched the Davis Cup final, it’s incredible how Stan had a great start to last year, phenomenal, and then he kind of plateaued for a while, and I think the Davis Cup is a big trophy in his showcase. It’s huge for Switzerland.

MH: Stan was definitely the key to the victory. To win his singles match and then doubles.

How big is Stan in Switzerland, Martina?
MH: I’m not always in Switzerland but from my visits there and hearing from my parents - there was always a lot of me, a lot of Roger (Federer), a lot of Belinda (Bencic) and last year was definitely Stan’s year. You would even know the name of his grandmother, his whole family, where he comes from, what he did. Sometimes that one thing can turnaround everything.
He made a wonderful decision in taking Magnus Norman as a coach, who helped him a lot along the way where he would be there and end up losing. He gave him this confidence, he could do it, he could win matches, like here. He just matured. He now has the belief.
Two years ago he played what you feel like the best match of his life and ended up losing to Djokovic. Last year, he came back fighting, he played the best match again and won that match and won the tournament. It took him like two years to get to that point and obviously now, the Davis Cup was the cherry on top. He really deserved to be the Swiss Athlete of the Year, but he placed second. Roger (Federer) got it. But on the other hand, sometimes Roger should have got it and some motor bike guy got it.

How many times have you won it, Martina?
MH: Only once. Roger won two slams in 2005 and they gave it to this motorcyclist, not even MotoGP, 125s. In Switzerland they sometimes go with sympathies rather than results. That’s why I think they should have one award ‘I like you’ and one for the results.

Andy Murray seeking consistency in 2015, looking for coach to help him in February


Amelie Mauresmo believes Andy Murray still has a few steps to climb before getting his hands on a third grand slam trophy, but the French coach is confident they are moving in the right direction.

The Scot, who lost to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final in four sets on Sunday, has come a long way from his tragic end to the 2014 season, where he lost 6-0, 6-1 to Roger Federer at the ATP Finals, and Mauresmo is happy with the progress they’ve made so far as a team.

This part is definitely very satisfying, being back in a grand slam final again. I think the improvement he’s made since the end of last year and then the first month, the first grand slam of the season is really positive,” Mauresmo told reporters in Melbourne.

A lot of positive things out these two weeks. Of course a little bit of disappointment after a loss in the final, which is normal but I think when he will look back at where he’s come from and where he’s at now… and of course there are still a few steps to climb before maybe holding a grand slam trophy again. That’s what is important. Still some work ahead but the gap is closing.”

Murray, who hired ex-WTA No1 Mauresmo as his coach last June, is looking forward to spending a few days away from the tennis, but the world No4 is keen on making further improvements to his game in the next couple of months. He says consistency is key for him this season.

It's pleasing to be back playing close to my best. And, yeah, it does show that, I still feel like I can make improvements in my game. I still think I can get a few per cent better over the next couple of months,” said the two-time major champion.

My job now is to try to maintain this sort of level and form for the next few months and not sort of have dips in form. I want to try to be more consistent this year and play better in more events. That's what I want to do the next couple months.

They’ve been a great couple of weeks compared with where I was a couple of months ago. It's like night and day really. Playing way, way better in almost every part of my game. Moving better. Physically I feel better, more confident, more belief. I was a lot calmer, like, before my matches.

Mentally I felt much, much stronger than I did at the end of last year and during the majors really last year.”

Another immediate goal for Murray is to add another coach to his team to help out in the absence of Mauresmo, who is only signed up to join him at tournaments for a limited number of weeks.

She will not be with him at his scheduled tournaments in February, in Rotterdam and Dubai, and he is hoping he can find someone soon to help him out in this period.

I'll definitely have a think about it, because I don't want to go the whole month now not seeing anyone,” said Murray.

I'll try to get some help this month. But, again, it's about getting the right person rather than rushing and making a bad decision.

I'll try and find the right person to do it with my team and chat to them a bit about it, then speak to some people. But that won't happen in the next few days because I want to go and do other stuff and think about other things just now.”

So what’s next on the agenda for the British No1?

I've spent like two and a half days at home in the last two and a half months, so I'm looking forward to getting back and spending a bit of time at home with my friends and family and my dogs and being away from the tennis court and the gym for a few days when I get back,” he said.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Comment - Odds in Djokovic's favour but Murray is poised for an upset


Novak Djokovic’s record in Australia speaks for itself. The world No1 is bidding for a 50th match win in Melbourne on Sunday.

Only two players in the Open Era have recorded more victories here – Roger Federer who has 75 and Stefan Edberg who has 56.

The Serb’s 4-0 record in finals in Melbourne is testament to how invincible he feels when he steps on Rod Laver Arena and the fact that he has beaten Andy Murray all three times they’ve played here definitely piles the odds in Djokovic’s favour heading into today’s final with the Scot.

But watching Murray over the past two weeks, one can’t help but picture a race horse coming from behind, getting ready to overtake everyone ahead of it for the win.

He refuses to use the word vindication when describing the success he’s enjoying at the moment with his coach Amelie Mauresmo, but Murray is certainly playing like he’s seeking it.

He looks like a player trying to prove a point and he has clearly put in the hard yards during the offseason with the sole aim of getting back to his best.

Like he pointed out yesterday, with one good tournament Murray has already re-entered the top-four in the world rankings and a win today would place him at No3 ahead of Rafael Nadal.

He’s also peaking at the right time this fortnight. Unlike Djokovic, whose form deserted him in his sloppy semi-final win over Stan Wawrinka, Murray had to bring out his very best to outclass Tomas Berdych in his last four test.

It is unfortunate that his rhythm got interrupted by having two days off between the semi and the final, unlike Djokovic who played his semi-final on Friday. You would assume that the player with the extra day would have an advantage going into the final, but surprisingly, for four of the past seven years, the person playing the second semi is the one who has run away with the trophy.

Another stat in Djokovic’s favour? The Serb is on a nine-match winning streak against top-10 opponents.

While he can gain confidence from knowing he beat Murray in all four matches they played in 2014, Djokovic is yet to face this new Andy Murray of 2015.

We have grown accustomed to the kind of tennis produced in a Djokovic-Murray match. It’s a gruelling physical battle from the baseline between two players who sport similar game, but in truth, both Djokovic and Murray have been improving their game. Djokovic has been serving better than we’ve ever seen him this tournament while Murray has been more aggressive and stepping inside the court more.

We will still witness long rallies from the back today, but something tells me there will be more to this match than baseline exchanges.

Just like we’ve seen the Boris Becker effect in Djokovic’s serve, we should expect to see Mauresmo’s variety creep into Murray’s tactics.

Perhaps the biggest blessing from the arrival of all these “super coaches” is that they might just save us from the mundane endless rallies that have dominated many of the top action in recent years by helping their players add more elements to their style.

Sunday’s match can give us an idea if that is true.

Verdict
The numbers are heavily in Djokovic’s favour and it’s doubtful he’ll play as badly as he did against Wawrinka in the semis but Murray might just have a bit of extra motivation to take this one. The Scot is very smart tactically, and if he manages to execute the plan he drew up with Mauresmo properly, he could capture his third grand slam trophy. We say Murray in four.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Murray looking to end losing streak to Djokovic in Melbourne


A little over two months ago, Andy Murray suffered a crushing 6-0, 6-1 defeat to Roger Federer on home soil at the O2 Arena.

It was a loss that, to many, signified how distant the Scot was from the world’s top trio – Novak Djokovic, Federer and Rafael Nadal - and how much work Murray needed to put in, if he wanted to return to his grand slam winning ways.

It’s barely nine weeks later and Murray has pulled off a sensational turnaround, beating two top-10 seeds - Tomas Berdych and Grigor Dimitrov - en route to his fourth Australian Open final – a run that has guaranteed him a return to the top four in the world rankings.

Against Djokovic in the title match on Sunday, Murray will need to execute another turnaround to halt a four-match losing streak to the Serb and reverse his 0-3 record against him at the Australian Open.

The No6 seed is a three-time runner-up at Melbourne Park, and should he overcome Djokovic today, he would be the first man in the Open Era to win the Australian Open title after losing three finals, and would set a record for most appearances - 10 - at the tournament before lifting the trophy.

He is aware that Djokovic is undefeated in four finals Down Under and that he’s standing between the Serb and history, the world No1 bidding to become just the second man to win five or more Australian Open trophies.

I've never won against him here before,” Murray said on Saturday. “I think I've lost to him the last four or five times we played against each other, as well. Maybe only won one set in those matches.

It would be a big turnaround. I played him a couple times very close the end of last year and lost pretty comfortably. For me it would be a big turnaround in a few months if I was able to win. I'm not saying it's not a possibility, but it's going to be very, very tough.

I know if I want to win, it will probably be very, very tough and challenging physically. So I need to prepare myself mentally for that. But he has a fantastic record here. He obviously loves the court and the conditions. It would be a big upset if I manage to win tomorrow.”

This time last year, Murray was returning from back surgery. While he made the quarter-finals or better in all the majors in 2014, he went 0-9 against Federer, Djokovic and Nadal and briefly dropped out of the top-10.

He is now happy to be back amongst the top guns and says he always knew he would rebound.

I knew I needed to work on a lot of things, but I also believed that with the right attitude and the right work ethic and the right people behind me that I'd be able to get back to playing my best again,” said the 27-year-old from Dunblane.

Murray, who beat Berdych in the last four on Thursday, didn’t watch Djokovic’s Friday night semi-final victory over Stan Wawrinka as he tried to keep his mind off the final. It was probably the right decision as it proved a bizarre five-set affair which Djokovic won playing sub-par tennis.

The top seed knows he must raise his level to take on Murray, a player who is just seven days older than him and one he has known since they were 12 years old.

There is little mystery when two players know each other so well and have faced off 23 times but Djokovic senses he will be tackling a new and improved Murray today.

I think he's going for the shots,” said Djokovic. “I think his forehand has improved, judging by the matches he has played these couple weeks compared to a few months ago.

The courts are playing a little bit faster in the last two years than it was the previous years in Rod Laver Arena. Because they are faster, because the ball is bouncing a bit lower, that's pretty suitable to his style of the game. He likes that.

He has a flat backhand and moves around the court pretty well. So it's going to be a very physical match, no doubt about that.”

Djokovic leads Murray 15-8 lifetime and 13-6 on hard courts. He hasn’t lost to the Brit since the 2013 Wimbledon final but doesn’t feel his strong record against Murray will play a huge part.

There's no clear favourite,” said Djokovic, who is gunning for an eighth major in his 15th slam final. “The record I have in finals against him here in Australia, we played couple times, can serve maybe as a slight mental edge. But not much.”