Boris Becker: my money is on Andy Murray to win Australian Open final against Novak Djokovic
I believe more strongly than ever that Andy Murray can be a multiple grand slam champion.
The most significant change in the entire men’s game over the past 18 months has been Murray’s improvement and development, as we saw in his brilliant Australian Open semi-final victory over Roger Federer on Friday.
This is why I predict he will win his final in Melbourne against Novak Djokovic on Sunday.
I expect it to be a similar type of match to the US Open final, a nail-biter over four or five sets, but deep down he knows he has what it takes to beat the defending champion.
The margins are narrow: I would rate Murray’s chances as 51 to 49 in his favour. But you can tell that he is operating on a different level to previous years, and that working with Ivan Lendl has made the critical difference.
At 25, he is the same age as Djokovic – there are only seven days separating them – and my guess is that these two boys will win lots of grand slam trophies between them over the next three years.
Murray is a changed man since the London Olympics. He is a different personality on court having beaten Roger Federer in straight sets at Wimbledon to win the gold medal, which has finally unlocked his self-belief.
Losing in those four slam finals must have seriously demoralised him, but he has come through it now. Winning a slam is such a wonderful feeling, and he wants to experience it again.
He knows that the window for adding more slams to his collection is the present, not three or four years’ time. He is desperate to seize his moment.
Physically, Murray and Djokovic are very evenly matched. The way that Djokovic moves on a hard court is mind-boggling: he defines what you can and cannot do by his sliding, and by the strain he puts on his legs just trying to reach the ball.
But Murray’s mental approach to the game now, and the way he prepares tactically, could be the decisive factor. He has won his first grand slam, so the confidence is there for him to know and to understand at the deepest level that he is good enough to win another slam or more.
Murray was always extremely fit, but the weakness in his early years on tour was his endurance: he was constantly cramping in the long five-set matches.
With his different training habits, and his off-season winter sessions in Miami, he has made incredible progress in this area. Now it seems that the longer the match goes, the better it is for Murray.
The complication on Sunday is that the more of a marathon it is, the better it becomes for Djokovic, too. There is a clear reason why these two are at the top of the men’s game.
In terms of rankings, Murray might still be third behind Federer, but I have been predicting since last summer that these two would be dominating men’s tennis for the next 2˝ years at least. That is exactly what is happening.
Djokovic is very popular with the Australian crowd: after all, he has won here three times before and is coming off a sequence of 20 straight victories.
He was part of one of the best matches of all time in last year’s final against Rafael Nadal, so he is full of confidence – the king of Melbourne, if you like. But there is one guy he still does not like to play, and he is called Murray.
For Murray, that first slam success in New York, which he achieved against Djokovic in a fantastic five-setter, gives him an important feelgood factor. Be in no doubt that it will have an effect on this final.
While Djokovic had that incredible five-hour match against Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round, he recovered very impressively in his wins over Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer, and sometimes you need that type of five-setter to get yourself going in a grand slam.
From Murray’s point of view, it is not an issue that no man has ever won his second slam title in the tournament directly after his first. He has been in so many finals and semi-finals that he is not the new kid on the block any more. He suffered in this type of environment for many years, which is why he broke through.
Murray knew that, eventually, all those years of frustration would be over. He will be ready for this showdown, but he has to make sure that he controls the centre of the court. If he lets Djokovic dictate, he will be doing a lot of running and he will probably lose.
The moment he becomes passive is the moment his opponent grows stronger. We saw how, when he was serving for the match against Federer, he became a little passive. It is still a flaw in his armoury and he cannot afford for it to show against Djokovic.
But Murray will not need any reminding that he is playing against the world No 1, a five-time grand slam champion. Crucially, he also knows that he is playing the same man whom he beat in his last major final.
This is why I still say he will win. This is his time