Crunch time for Murray as the Aussie Open heads into the Quarters

With a lack of free-to-air coverage of the Australian Open you’d be forgiven for feeling a little bereft of ‘Murray-Mania’ and perhaps even for being completely unaware that the Scotsman has once again advanced to the final eight of a Grandslam event.

Murray has breezed through the early rounds in Melbourne

Thus far, Murray has come up against the talented US teen Ryan Harris in the opening round, Edouard Roger-Vasselin, the awkward Michael Llodra and the in-form Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan. Each of the four matches have provided their own unique dangers, but Murray has dealt well with all comers to date and has only dropped a single set en-route to the Quarters.

His most recent triumph against Kukushkin had the edge taken off of it by the Kazakh’s injury problems, which were almost certainly down to the tough five-set battles that he had endured in the lead up to his encounter with Murray.

Having defeated strong opponents such Viktor Troicki of Serbia and the mile-a-minute Gael Monfils of France, both of whom were seeded in the top 20 for the first ‘Slam’ of the Year, Kukushkin appeared to be in great shape ahead of facing up to Murray (mental shape that is). Unfortunately though, his endeavours in these impressive scalps left him with little left to offer physically against the fourth seed and Murray eventually ran out a comfortable victor by a scoreline that read 6-1 6-1 1-0 prior to his opponent’s retirement.

Not only was it nice for the Scot to bag another big winning margin, but by virtue of his opponent’s premature departure he only needed to be on court for a measly 49 minutes. This will undoubtedly have been welcomed not only by his body but also his fare Scottish skin which would have been taking a severe pounding in the baking Melbourne sun.

With this win Murray has progressed to the last eight at a ‘Slam’ once again and only Japan’s Kei Nishikori stands between him and a place in what would be his fifth consecutive Grandslam Semi-Final appearance. Though Nishikori has impressed en-route to these latter stages of the tournament, he like Kukushkin has had to grind his way through two five-setters already and Murray will look to make not only his superior game but also his fresher body count when they come head-to-head.

Nishikori earned his showdown with Murray through a brilliant win over Tsonga

Murray’s comfortable navigation through the early rounds in Melbourne has once again stirred up public belief, perhaps even personal belief, that the Aussie Open provides the greatest opportunity for him to break his Grandslam duck.

He has previously made it to each of the last two finals at the tournament and has forever spoken fondly of his time ‘Down-Under’ and his comfort on the harder surfaces of Grandslam tennis. Couple this with the sizeable gap between the US Open and the Australian Open and it becomes clear that this tournament will provide him with a significant opportunity on an annual basis.

This lengthy gap between the current ‘Slam’ and the previous one means that Murray’s major rivals Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are likely to have not had the opportunity to have constructed significant runs of devastating form as they are all capable of in more fixture-heavy periods of the year. Therefore, going in to the start of the new year Murray will know that if he gets himself in perfect physical shape and practices hard that perhaps the gap between him and his arguably more illustrious rivals will be at it’s very slimmest, not that there is a huge gulf as it is.

So then, victory over Nishikori would mean a match up with the world’s most feared player of the moment in the form of Djokovic and then who knows who he would face if he triumphed again. In all likelihood Murray will have to defeat two of the world’s top three players if he is to land his first Grandslam win this week, and although he is painfully aware of the difficulty of this task he will be high on confidence and hopeful as ever. COME ON ANDY!

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Djoko Proves He Is Numero Uno

Another glorious fortnight has come and passed for Novak Djokovic, and another Grandslam success has left everyone wondering how on earth he is going to be brought back down to earth. Last night’s epic against Rafael Nadal was an exhibition of patient and deadly tennis from start to finish. As he has done all year, he went toe-to-toe with Nadal in every long, hard-hitting and gruelling rally and more often than not he came out on top. The brutal nature of this match was most evident in their incredible 17 minute long game on Nadal’s serve in the second set. Mark Petchey (Sky’s commentator) added perspective when he said that you “can get full sets of tennis that only last that long”, it was a phenomenal demonstration of physical and technical ability from both men but there was a sense of inevitability about it’s eventual victor.

Djokovic looked pained in the fourth but still came through in style

This game further underlined Djokovic’s fantastic year which has seen him win 10 titles, win 3 Grandslams and only suffer 2 defeats. This has been the stuff of dreams for the Serb and doesn’t he just know it. More to the point doesn’t Rafael Nadal just know it…

The likes of Nadal and Roger Federer have too had magnificent years of domination since their emergence as the super powers of World tennis, but I don’t think either of them would argue that they’ve been quite this brilliant over the course of one season. It is outrageous that anyone could reach this stage of the year with only two losses (one of which was due to retirement) in any generation of men’s tennis, let alone in arguably the greatest and strongest era of all time.

Federer ousted Djokovic at the French

Federer is widely regarded as the best player ever and he has only managed one victory of Djokovic this year, and Nadal has been labelled the major threat to Federer’s crown but he hasn’t managed to beat Djokovic at all this year. The only man other than Federer to beat him this year was Andy Murray and though Murray controlled the match throughout it was eventually due to retirement that he prospered, and it remains unclear whether Murray’s domination was down to Djokovic’s inhibited play. Even in spite of the immense competition at the top of the men’s game, this year Novak has been simply untouchable.

This year has been a masterclass from Djokovic and he has taken he some of the greatest players of all time out of their comfort zones on a consistent basis. It is fair to assume that Federer and Nadal would regard Djokovic as the significant threat to their legacies and that in itself is great testament to his ability and incredible form. So is it too early to considered one of the greatest players of all time? Maybe it is, but this past year has certainly written his place in the history books.

Given the level of Novak’s domination this year the next few months are incredibly important for all of his rivals in preparation for the next Grandslam event, the Australian Open, in January. In the wake of the US Open it seems there is an awful lot of ground to make up but there have at least been some glimmers of hope for the chasing pack in the last major of the year. The first man to really cause concern for Djokovic was his compatriot Janko Tipsarevic who matched up well to his more illustrious friend in a four-set match that resulted in his retirement through injury. This challenge was followed up by a huge scare against Federer who threw away two match points having led the Serb by two sets to love, but somehow Novak managed to find a way to summon the energy and nerve to battle back and take it in five.

Winning Smile and a tribute to 9/11

It is said that true champion’s come up with the goods when their backs are against the wall, and at the moment that is a key element to his success. Some time in the future his form is inevitably going to run out and tougher times will face him but for now it is unclear when that time will come and who will be the players that can bring about something of a demise in his fortunes. We know of course that the likes of Federer, Nadal and Murray can compete strongly with him when they are at the top of their games but who else could give him a sleepless night or two? Perhaps some of the more extroverted and athletic competitors on tour like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan-Martin Del Potro could manage to ruffle his feathers but it is hard to see where a consistent threat is going to come from outside of the World’s top four players.

For now Nole is number one and it appears that he could be there to stay for quite a while. Next on his agenda is the aim of completing a career Grandslam and who’s to say that he can’t go on and do it?