With enough time to digest the four-set men’s final, just what was so striking about the first major conclusion of 2015? Here are four thoughts:
1. The first two sets made it clear: tennis has changed.
The first set of Sunday’s final last one hour and 12 minutes. Not to outdo themselves, Djokovic and Murray decided it would be fun to see if they could go even longer in the second set – which they did, playing for a whopping one hour and 20 minutes.
Two hours and 32 minutes, the time it took Djokovic and Murray to play the first two sets, was longer than the entirety of 14 of their previous 23 matches.
Even though these two are known for grinding one other into submission, these first two sets were incredibly long, especially considering that the courts appeared to be playing quicker than in previous years.
This match was a wonderful demonstration of how long, baseline-oriented points dominate modern tennis. The days of consistent net rushing are well behind us, and it doesn’t appear as if we are going back in the near future.
Djokovic and Murray did finish 27.5% of points at the net, but many of these net approaches came after lengthy exchanges from the back of the court. The Serb’s own rare attempts to serve and volley seemed merely to break up the baseline monotony.
2. What to make of Djokovic:
In 2008, 2012, and 2013, Djokovic won the Australian Open for his only major of the season. Only in 2011 did he go on to win another two. With his sights set on the French Open, it’s hard to surmise just what type of year it will be for the World No. 1.
It seems easy to say that he’ll pick up at least one more slam now, but we said this very same thing in 2012 and 2013. At the same time, Djokovic has now won two of the last three majors and is undeniably the best player in the world. His semifinal match against Wawrinka leads me to believe that he might not breeze through the rest of the majors, but I think winning at least one more slam is reasonable.
3. What to make of Murray:
Murray showed plenty grit in the first 150 minutes of the match. After losing the first set in heartbreaking fashion and going down a break in the second, he maintained his resolve and stuck with the Serb to level the contest at a set apiece.
But from a break up in the third, the wheels fell off. Murray claimed after in press: “the reason I lost that match was not a physical thing…it appeared [Djokovic] was the one that was struggling more physically than me.”
If this is the case, the match’s denouement was arguably the worst mental meltdown we’ve ever seen from Murray. He missed an inordinate number of routine balls, many of which landed in the bottom of the net. Nobody would have blamed the Brit for declining physically at that stage of the match, but it is inexcusable to turn inward in your eighth grand slam final.
From a tactical standpoint, the match was decided over second serve points, which obviously is not a big surprise. Murray was throwing in lollipop after lollipop and ended up winning 34%.
Compare this to Djokovic – who won 62% – and you see why Murray struggled. This is one of the biggest differences in their games, can partly explain why Djokovic has owned Murray in the last several years, and why he has six more majors.
4. What to make of everything else:
Amazingly, Djokovic was able to win higher percentage of second serve than first serve points, which really is remarkable considering how well Murray handles second serve returns.
Djokovic’s use of the slice backhand was really intriguing. It prevented Murray from dictating with his forehand, and also made it tougher for the No. 6 seed to take control with his deadly cross-court backhand.
One tactic that puzzled me from Djokovic’s end was how he persisted in going the T on the deuce side. Murray was standing in between the center and singles lines to return; that position was asking Djokovic to go out wide, which he didn’t too often.
That will be something to examine in their matches moving forward.
Murray is a much better player when he’s going after his shots from the back of the court, which he did against Tomas Berdych. Djokovic’s stellar defense caused Murray to hold back and rely more on his consistency and defense, knowing that Djokovic makes it so much harder for him to by primarily playing offense.
What were your takeaways from the men’s final? Sound off in the comments!