AO Doubles Final One For The Purists

Control of net key in Murray/Soares vs. Nestor/Stepanek showdown

Jamie Murray was five years old when Daniel Nestor made his pro debut in 1991. Much has happened since. Nestor, now 43, has partnered with a variety of players — most notably Mark Knowles, Nenad Zimonjic, Max Mirnyi and Sebastien Lareau — to win eight Grand Slam men’s doubles titles, four Barclays ATP World Tour Finals crowns, 28 ATP World Tour Masters 1000s, and an Olympic gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Games. He’s also occupied the No. 1 slot in the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings, making the Serbian-born Canadian one of the sport’s most accomplished achievers.

“Daniel’s had an amazing career,” said Jamie Murray, who with brother Andy Murray became the first siblings to reach finals in both men’s singles and doubles at a major since Reggie Doherty/Laurie Doherty at Wimbledon in 1906. “He won his 1,000th match in Sydney. He’s been a great role model for me. He’s somebody who I’ve looked up to from a young age when I started playing doubles.”

Now 29, Murray is about to face his role model in the final of the 2016 Australian Open. The Scotsman and partner Bruno Soares of Brazil will take on Nestor and another veteran, 37-year-old Czech Radek Stepanek, on Saturday night in Rod Laver Arena.

“They’re a very strong team, a very experienced team,” observed Soares. “Nestor is one of the all-time greats in doubles. Both of them, they’ve won here before, so they know what it feels like to win the Aussie Open final.”

The Murray/Soares partnership is a new one, launched only weeks ago. This is just their third tournament together. They kicked off 2016 by reaching the semis in Doha (l. to Lopez/Lopez), before taking the title in Sydney (d. Bopanna/Mergea). En route to the Melbourne final, the No. 7 seeds dispatched Marray/Qureshi 6-4, 6-4; Fyrstenberg/Janowicz 7-5, 6-3; No. 11 Inglot/Lindstedt 6-3, 6-4; No. 13 Klaasen/Ram 6-7(3), 6-4, 7-6(3); and Mannarino/Pouille 6-3, 6-1. Murray has now reached the final of the past three Grand Slams, the first two with Australian John Peers. But he’s still seeking his first major title.

For their part, Nestor and Stepanek advanced with wins over Hsieh/Yang 6-1, 7-5; No. 10 Kubot/Matkowski 7-6(4), 6-1; Andujar/Carreno Busta 5-7, 6-4, 6-4; No. 14 Huey/Mirnyi 6-4, 6-4; and Cuevas/Granollers 7-6(11), 6-4.

“It’s Jamie’s third Slam final in a row, so we have to expect a very tough match,” said Stepanek, himself a two-time Slam champ in doubles (2012 Australian Open, 2013 US Open, both with Leander Paes).

“For me, it took a couple of Grand Slam finals to get through,” said Nestor. “I imagine they’re going to play their best match. They’ve experienced this already, so they’re going to be very tough to beat.”

Saturday’s match-up will likely come down to which team can play the more aggressive tennis and assert themselves at the net. Experience is most certainly on the Nestor/Stepanek side, but Murray/Soares have shown that they can hang with the big boys, too.

“It’s going to be a pure doubles game, everyone trying to take control of the net,” Soares asserted. “We’re going to have to try to do that before them. We’ll try to make a lot of returns, pressure their serves.”

“They’re going to be very tough to beat in this situation because they’ve been there and done it before,” said Murray. “We’ve also been to Grand Slam finals but we haven’t won, so I guess that’s an edge they’d have over us.”