Rivalries Of 2016: Murray vs. Djokovic
It has been 10 years since Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic first faced off on the ATP World Tour. Ten years have passed since the Scot and the Serbian stepped on the indoor hard courts of Madrid for an unassuming third round meeting. Little did they know that a burgeoning rivalry that would span 35 encounters and feature a catalogue of heart-stopping moments was born on that day in the Spanish capital.
Close friends off the court and fierce rivals between the lines, Murray and Djokovic have had their share of memorable clashes over the years. They have met in all four Grand Slams, all nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events and twice at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
With two of the best backhands in the game and lightning-fast agility, they are mirror images from the back of the court: seemingly impenetrable elastic walls that can turn defence into offence in a flash, leaving opponents scratching their heads in disbelief. As the spotlight grows and drama builds, Murray and Djokovic raise their games to new heights and this was never more evident than in 2016, when the battle for Emirates ATP Rankings supremacy - World No. 1 - came down to the last match of the season at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
Murray dramatically dethroned Djokovic in straight sets in the season finale and it was a change of fortunes for the new World No. 1 against his longtime rival, having dropped 13 of their previous 15 encounters. Djokovic was an indomitable force in their first four meetings of 2016, opening the season with a straight-set win in the Australian Open final - his fifth victory over Murray at Melbourne Park - and following that with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 triumph for the Mutua Madrid Open crown.
"I'm very pleased that I have developed a great rivalry with somebody that I've known for a very long time and somebody that I have a very good and friendly relationship with on and off the court," Djokovic said after winning his 29th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title in Madrid. Following the tournament, he had opened a seemingly insurmountable 9,025-point advantage over Murray in the Emirates ATP Rankings and the year-end No. 1 spot was all but secured by May... or so it seemed.
With Djokovic continuing to build momentum towards Roland Garros, where he would bid to complete the career Grand Slam, it was Murray who would stop him in his tracks at the Foro Italico in Rome. Meeting in back-to-back finals at the clay-court Masters 1000 events, the birthday boy notched his first victory over Djokovic on the dirt with a strong 6-3, 6-3 performance.
"Each time I go up against him, I know I have to play a great match to win," Murray said after lifting the Rome trophy. "Sometimes you play great tennis and you don't win, because he's such a great player."
They would meet for a third time in the clay-court season less than a month later at Roland Garros. Murray burst out of the gates, taking the opener 6-3, but Djokovic would not be denied his place in history, claiming the elusive crown in four sets and thus completing the career Grand Slam. It was their seventh clash in a major final, one meeting shy of the record held by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Murray scratched and clawed at Djokovic's perch and the lead slowly began to evaporate. After squaring off three times in the span of five weeks, they would not meet again until the championship bout at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. An 9,025-point deficit suddenly became a near-1,000 point lead for Murray, as the Scot notched his first title at the season finale. He capped a stunning march to the pinnacle of the tennis world with his 24th consecutive match win and fifth straight title, cementing his place in the history books.
Touted as a match for the ages with so much on the line, it was Murray who grabbed the initiative. He had laboured on court for a marathon nine hours and 56 minutes entering the final, including the two longest best-of-three set matches in tournament history (since 1991), while Djokovic needed three hours less to reach the title match. But the top seed exhibited no signs of fatigue. Murray would emerge victorious on his third match point after one hour and 42 minutes, becoming the first British player to finish as year-end No. 1.
With the battle for No. 1 reaching its climax in the final weeks of the season, the two rivals are poised to continue fighting for the top spot as we turn the calendar to 2017.
View FedEx ATP Head2Head (Djokovic Leads 24-11)
Djokovic vs. Murray: 2016 Meetings
| Barclays ATP World Tour Finals
||Hard||F||Murray|| 6-3, 6-4
| Roland Garros
||Clay||F||Djokovic|| 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4
|Rome||Clay||F||Murray|| 6-3, 6-3
|Madrid||Clay||F||Djokovic|| 6-2, 3-6, 6-3
| Australian Open
||Djokovic|| 6-1, 7-5, 7-6(3)