Saturday, January 30, 2016

2016 AUS OPEN: Men's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Andy Murray (GBR) [2] vs Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1]
This is my prediction post for the men's singles final at the 2016 Australian Open. Last year, I incorrectly predicted Andy Murray would beat Novak Djokovic in the men's final but correctly predicted Serena Williams would beat Maria Sharapova in the women's final. This year, I predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinals2 of 2 women's semifinals2 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. I have also written a preview of this year's Women's singles final.

Men's Semifinals Review: How The Finalists Got Here
Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] d. Roger Federer (SUI) [3] 6-1 6-2 3-6 6-3.  With this win (that I predicted), Djokovic nudges ahead 23-22 in his career head-to-head with Roger Federer and with the trajectory of their careers in reverse directions it is hard to see that  there will be turning point in the Swiss Great's favor anytime in the near future. The first two sets were simply tennis at a level that we have not seen before. Djokovic was simply unbeatable, and Federer was lucky to come out of that first 54 minutes of this match with his dignity intact, despite managing to barely eke out 3 games to his opponent's 12. Federer did well to stay strong mentally on the court and when Novak's level dropped he was able to take advantage and snatch the third set. However, just a few errant shots in a service game in the fourth set and the World #1 was able to break and hold serve to close out the match and reach his 6th Australian Open final, where he is undefeated in his five previous appearances.

Andy Murray (GBR) [2] d. Milos Raonic (CAN) [13] 4-6 7-5 6-7(4) 6-4 6-2.  Murray showed why he is currently the #2 player in the world by dismissing a energetic and energized Milos Raonic who served impeccably to gain a 2-1 sets advantage over him in the semifinal. Murray refused to panic and Raonic's large (6-foot-5) body let him down as he suffered a hip injury which hampered his movement midway through the fourth set and made the result not in doubt for much of the fifth set. (Murray raced out to a 5-0 lead but Raonic stiffened his resistance but still succumbed in the end). Raonic has nothing to be ashamed of and he has more information about what he needs to do to breakthrough to compete in the ultimate test against the very top echelon of men's tennis. I would be very surprised if we don't see him there within the next year or two.

Men's Final Preview: Who The Champion Will Be
Djokovic is playing in his 6th major final here in Melbourne, and he is currently undefeated at this stage of the tournament having beaten Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2008, Rafael Nadal in 2012 and Murray in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Last year's final was particularly rough, because despite playing much better tennis than his opponent for most of the first three sets, Murray managed to lose two of them and then lost the last set 6-0. In fact, with Djokovic posting a 21-9 head-to-head lead over Murray, including 10 of 11 matches since Murray's 2013 Wimbledon final win, the final set in their most competitive matches have often been blow-out victories for the Serb.

Surprisingly, in major finals, Djokovic only has a 3-2 edge, with a 3-0 lead in non-final grand slam matches (2015 French Open semifinal, 2014 US Open quarterfinal and 2012 Australian Open semifinal). Most people expect that Djokovic will simply run away with this match in 3-sets but I actually think it will be much closer than that. I think it will be an epic war of attrition, and there is a possibility (a small one, but the opening is there, as a result of Djokovic's shockingly bad performance in his 5-set win over Gilles Simon in the fourth round) that Djokovic could go off. Everyone expects him to win this match, he expects to win this match, and he probably will win this match. But if things don't go as planned (like he loses the first set), then I think it is very possible this men's final could be as surprising (and entertaining) as the women's final. That being said, Djokovic is 10-8 in major finals while Murray is 2-6 in major finals for a reason.
MadProfessah's pick: Djokovic.

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