Mur­ray craves elu­sive crown

No­vak Djokovic again stands in the way for the new world No.1, writes Terry Mallinder

Warwick Daily News - - SPORT -

HE’S got the world No.1 rank­ing, two Wim­ble­don crowns ... and now a knight­hood.

But the ti­tle Sir Andy Mur­ray still craves but has so far eluded him is “Aus­tralian Open cham­pion”.

The 29-year-old Brit has made the fi­nal at Mel­bourne Park five times – in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016 – with­out suc­cess.

Four of those de­feats have been at the hands of his great­est ri­val No­vak Djokovic, who will this year be aim­ing for a record sev­enth ma­jor in the Vic­to­rian cap­i­tal.

Due to their re­spec­tive his­to­ries at the first grand slam tour­na­ment of the year and his win over Mur­ray in the fi­nal of the Qatar Open in Doha last week, Djokovic has been in­stalled as favourite to again hold the Nor­man Brookes Chal­lenge Cup.

Djokovic has beaten Mur­ray at the Aus­tralian Open five times in to­tal – also get­ting the bet­ter of him in a semi-fi­nal in 2012.

But, hav­ing been at the peak of his pow­ers for the past six months – and on top of the world for the past 10 weeks since usurp­ing Djokovic as No.1 – Mur­ray is con­fi­dent of fi­nally con­quer­ing Down Un­der, even if the hunter has sud­denly be­come the hunted.

“I don’t feel like I have men­tal hur­dles now,” Mur­ray told The Times. “I feel like I’m past that, to be hon­est.”

For ‘Sir Andy’, it’s just a mat­ter of ex­e­cut­ing cor­rectly – some­thing he was re­minded of dur­ing his lat­est stoush with “The Djoker” in the Mid­dle East.

“I think I just need to work on my of­fen­sive game,” said Mur­ray, who won an ATP-best nine ti­tles in 2016.

“Against No­vak (in Doha) I was ac­tu­ally pretty good when I started mov­ing for­ward, dic­tated quite a few points, but not as much as I would have liked.

“I was maybe a lit­tle bit too far be­hind the base­line at times.

“There’s not loads that I need to work on, I feel like I’m play­ing good ten­nis, mov­ing well. A few specifics and I will be all right.”

Djokovic, also 29, will of course have other ideas. Mel­bourne Park has, af­ter all, be­come the Serb’s own per­sonal happy hunt­ing ground since he broke through for a maiden ma­jor there in 2008.

He’s lost only once in Mel­bourne in the past six years – a quar­ter-fi­nal to even­tual cham­pion Stan Wawrinka in 2014 – for an in­cred­i­ble 57-6 (90.5%) record.

Djokovic, who matched Roy Emer­son’s record of six ti­tles (1961, 1963-67) in Mel­bourne last year, will have re­gained con­fi­dence from his 6-3 5-7 6-4 vic­tory against Mur­ray last week, which gave him an over­all 25-11 as­cen­dency be­tween the pair.

“Andy has ab­so­lutely

de­served to be the No.1 in the world. He’s had a tremen­dous and spe­cial last six months of 2016,” said Djokovic, who would need to win the tour­na­ment and Mur­ray to be bun­dled out in the quar­ters to take back the No.1 rank­ing he held for 122 straight weeks, and 223 all up, be­fore be­ing over­taken in Novem­ber.

“This year we’ve al­ready played a thrilling match and I’m look­ing for­ward to our ri­valry and many matches to come. In terms of my feel­ings in com­ing to Mel­bourne for the last five or six years, it’s pretty much the same.

“I’m very pumped, if I may say, to do well. It’s the be­gin­ning of the sea­son and we al­ready have our first grand slam.

“I’m not the only one who is ex­cited but it def­i­nitely gives me a lot of goose­bumps to come back.”

The Aus­tralian Open will be far from a two-horse race how­ever, with third-seeded Mi­los Raonic and fourth-seeded Stan Wawrinka both clear and present dan­gers.

Wawrinka won the last ma­jor, the US Open, to add to his 2014 Aus­tralian ti­tle, while Raonic was a semi-fi­nal­ist last year be­fore reach­ing the fi­nal of Wim­ble­don.

PHOTO: AAP

TOP DOG: Andy Mur­ray has claimed the world No.1 rank­ing but is still chas­ing an Aus­tralian Open vic­tory.

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