Brain Game: Breaking The Unbreakable
Scot was relentless in attacking Djokovic's backhand side in London
Andy Murray broke the unbreakable.
Murray defeated Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-4 in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals title match to become the year-end No. 1 player in the Emirates ATP Rankings by attacking the Serbian’s normally impenetrable backhand.
All discussions after the semi-finals focused on possible exhaustion for the Brit after his marathon victory over Milos Raonic and Djokovic’s impressive demolition of Kei Nishikori. It took just a handful of minutes on Sunday night to clearly see both of those results would have no bearing on the final.
This match was Murray’s from the beginning. He looked sharper, hungrier, and more willing to reach out and grab his destiny rather than hope it was going to be given to him. “There was no serious chance for me to win today’s match,” Djokovic said post-match. “From the very beginning we could see that. He was just better all in all.”
With Murray returning leading 4-3 on serve in the opening set, Djokovic committed a routine backhand error at 15/0 that seemed very uncharacteristic from the former World No. 1. The Serbian was off balance, falling backwards, which immediately started the alarm bells ringing, signaling a critical break of serve was imminent. At 15/15, Djokovic started the rally with two forehands, but Murray then made him hit three consecutive backhands, with Djokovic sailing the third one long.
At deuce, Djokovic put a neutral rally backhand groundstroke into the net. On break point, Murray double downed on attacking the vulnerable Djokovic wing, making the Serbian hit eight consecutive backhands, with the last one finding its way into the net as Murray approached with an aggressive forehand. Break. The Scottish horse was bolting.
With Murray serving at 5-3, 40/15 in the opening set, it was once again a Djokovic backhand that found the net to end the point, and end the set. Overall for the match, Djokovic’s backhand contributed just three winners, while committing 17 unforced errors. Murray hit 54 per cent of his shots to Djokovic’s backhand side, relentlessly trying to break it down.
Murray’s quality groundstrokes also forced Djokovic more onto his back foot in the final than the World No. 2 is used to. In round-robin play, and in the semi-final against Nishikori, Djokovic made contact with 78 per cent of his backhands behind the baseline. That margin slightly deteriorated against Murray, with 82 per cent of Djokovic's backhands hit from behind the baseline.
“I just played very poorly, made a lot of unforced errors from the backhand side,” Djokovic said post-match. “It just wasn’t my day.”
The average rally length in Murray’s semi-final victory against Raonic was just five shots, but that was extended to seven shots against Djokovic in the final. Unfortunately for the Belgrade native, those longer rallies all too often ended in a backhand error.
Leading into the final, Djokovic averaged just seven backhand unforced errors in each match, but that skyrocketed to 17 against Murray. Once Murray found a crack in Djokovic’s armour, he turned it into a crevice.
Overall in the final, Murray played better than we have seen this week, and Djokovic played worse. You have got to give credit to the Brit for both ends of that equation.