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Friday, January 27, 2012
Breaking down Djokovic, Murray

By Matt Wilansky, ESPN.com

It simply was one of those matches you won't soon forget. Breaks. Defense. Chokes. Brilliance. Punishment.

When all was said and done, Novak Djokovic finally beat Andy Murray in 4 hours, 50 minutes in this cat-and-mouse war of attrition. Djokovic will now face Rafael Nadal for the Australian Open men's title Sunday.

Here's how this epic unfolded:

Set 1: Djokovic 6-3, 47 minutes

Murray rattled from the outset: Although Murray fought off two break points in his opening serving game, he was promptly broken the next time he was up. It was as much a sign of nerves from Murray as it was Djokovic looking relaxed and confident. And after Murray broke Djokovic back, the Serb again returned the favor to take a 4-2 lead. Murray looked agitated, continually engaged in heated discussions with the chair umpire. Djokovic would go on to win the first set 6-3. Your Set 1 stats: A combined 35 unforced errors and nine winners. Ouch.

Djokovic's breathing: Djokovic has a long history of breathing ailments. This manifested itself again versus David Ferrer in a grinding quarterfinal matchup. It then appeared to be a factor after the fifth game of the first set when Djokovic was motioning to his camp. It did not appear to affect his movement, though.

Set 2: Murray 6-3, 65 minutes

Same ol', same ol': One game into the second set and Djokovic broke Murray again. An inauspicious start for someone trying to prove he has more resolve and resilience.

Soft second serve: According to ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert, Murray was hitting his second serve, at times, up to 30 mph less than his first, a huge disparity among the pro ranks. Djokovic, for his part, was clocked at over 120 mph.

Momentum swing and momentum swing after ... : Down 2-0 in the second set, Murray settled down, but his game picked up. He broke Djokovic to tie the set at 2-all, and in the process hit a couple of screaming winners. Murray, who has long suffered from an unwillingness to seize control of rallies, was dictating play and hitting with aplomb. He would break Djokovic a second time to go up 4-2. Two more consecutive breaks by each player made it 5-3 Murray before he finally sealed the set with a hold.

Punishing set: The 42-shot rally in the middle of the set was a mere microcosm of a grueling second set. At its conclusion, Djokovic slumped over in an attempt to catch his breath. Clearly, the long side-to-side points took their toll on the defending champ. Murray did not appear to be nearly as affected, though both players were exceeding their allotted time in between points on a regular basis.

Set 3: Murray 7-6 (4), 88 minutes

What a start: After an 18-minute opening game, Djokovic finally held serve. Murray failed to capitalize on five break opportunities. Djokovic was doing a lot more running around than Murray, and as Gilbert asked: Would the toll of these long rallies and games take its toll on Djokovic? Murray was clearly dictating the points -- even if he wasn't winning them all.

No freebees here: You're getting the feeling that Nadal, who had his own arduous battles in the last two rounds, is sitting home smiling. Djokovic and Murray are working incredibly hard to win points. Based on the time of this match, you'd think they were deep into the fifth set.

Special concoction: Among Ivan Lendl's vast responsibilities, apparently, is to help charge up his new charge. Lendl was seen delivering a lemonade-like drink to someone to give to Murray. Who knows what it was, but both competitors needed something to rejuvenate them at this point.

Wowsers! Djokovic had Murray fetching balls from one wing of the court to another. The great Scot played remarkable defense in yet another excruciating rally to win the point and snag the break for a 6-5 lead. Murray had 11 chances to break Djokovic in the set and finally capitalized for the second time.

But ... Just befitting of this match, Djokovic broke him back and sent the set into a tiebreaker. Murray would win it and take a two-sets-to-one lead over the defending champ. This match was now a war of attrition.

Set 4: Djokovic 6-1, 25 minutes

Oh, boy: The first game of the second set, and you'll (facetiously) never guess what happened: Djokovic broke Murray for the early lead. Should we have expected anything less?

Wheels coming off: Just like that, Djokovic took a two-break lead. It was obvious a fifth set was in the very near future. It would behoove Murray to now salvage any fight he has left for the decider. Djokovic had found a new level and dictated nearly every point. Murray did not help his case with some sloppy play. He finished the set with two winners and 11 unforced errors.

Novak's bounce: Djokovic showed us the true heart of a champion by dismantling Murray in a paltry 25 minutes. It's the best thing that could have happened to him -- win a set and save your legs.

Set 5: Djokovic 7-5, 65 minutes

The four-hour marker: Three games into the fifth set and the players have been on the court for four hours. So far, a fairly routine 2-1 Murray lead with no breaks of serve. Who would strike first?

Still waiting: Five games into the fifth and no breaks. Both Djokovic and Murray have been playing a little more conservatively to this point. But as ESPN's Chris Fowler notes, you get the feeling Djokovic can't be beaten after his exploits last season.

Fowler appears right: Djokovic finally converted a break point opportunity to take a 4-2 lead. You can kind of smell a third straight date with Rafa in a major final, right?

Not so fast, kids: Who is this mentally robust Brit? With Djokovic serving for the match, Murray breaks him without breaking a sweat. The score: 5-4 Djokovic with Murray to serve.

What a hold: Murray had a viable chance to break Djokovic and serve for the match. Djokovic held on in a heart-palpitating 11th game of the final set. This is now officially one for the ages.

And then ... You kind of saw this coming. Murray had his chance and failed. So what does Djokovic do? Break Murray, of course. And now his chance to serve for the final.


That's a wrap -- finally! Djokovic saved his best for last, something we probably should have expected. Four hours, 50 minutes later and Djokovic finally advances. Unbelievable resolve by both players in a truly punishing affair. Bring on Rafa, baby.