Andy Murray & Novak Djokovic: Who has the Edge?

murray kiss cup

I had a sneaky feeling Andy Murray could pull this off, make British Tennis history and prevent Djokovic securing his second Wimbledon title. And over the next few years these two truly immense tennis players are going to trade titles, Grand Slams and the No 1 crown. Each time they face off in a final it will be impossible to predict the winner.

Up until this tournament I have believed that Djokovic held the edge but now Murray has developed a mental strength to match his talent. Writing in January this year about their final in the Australian open, a match that Djokovic won I explained why Murray could not be written off;

For many Djokovic is the favourite this weekend and for good reason. He is playing the tennis of his life and his mental strength is such that he never knows when he’s beaten. This is the popular view, but a dominant Novak Djokovic ruins the script and Murray cannot be so easily discounted. His mental strength may not be as natural as Djokovic’s but is growing through hard earned experience. He has struggled and failed more in his quest to reach the pinnacle they now share which has transformed his natural pessimism into a stubbornness; a good old fashioned Scottish cussedness.

During this Wimbledon tournament I wonder if his cussedness has evolved into genuine belief. He played two really tough matches in the Quarter and Semi Finals, recovering from two sets down and one set down respectively. Both of his opponents in these matches, Fernando Verdasco and Jerzy Janowic, had Murray clinging on desperately only for him to find his best form and force the wins.

Djokovic always believes an opportunity will come

Over twitter @adrianpure made a point to me about Ivan Lendl’s mental strength work with Murray having a growing effect over the last twelve months. I agree with this and how his successes in New York and the Olympics have helped him strengthen mentally.

I also wonder if these two tough matches leading into the final helped finish the job. Before the start of this years Wimbledon I’d have said Murray believes he can win on his day. This thought allows space for the gnawing doubt, when under pressure, that it might not be his day. Djokovic on the other hand always believes an opportunity will come for him to turn the match his way and win it. If he is under the cosh he waits for the opportunity and is ready to pounce when it comes. This keeps him believing that he can win even when he is behind and is a signpost to the source of his mental strength. (I wrote this up in the post, ‘Why Djokovic has the edge over Murray’ last year).

Murray has developed the belief that he has the talent to make it his day

After the Quarter and Semi Finals I wonder if Murray has developed his thinking into a similar belief, not just that he can win on his day, but that he has the talent to make it his day.

djoko 3

Djokovic for his part remains a graceful and admirable opponent. Once again he showed the impress Formula style thinking that is the basis of his world renowned mental strength. In a post match interview on the BBC he used lines such as;

I lost to a better opponent today … he was more patient … I could not come up with my best game when I needed to … I lacked explosivity in my legs … maybe that’s why I went for shots I wouldn’t normally … made unforced errors and gave him the win…

His language flows with temporary & external reasons for the set back and permanent and internal belief in his talent. He doesn’t work at this, it’s truly natural to him.

This final was a brutal battle. Djokovic had leads in both the second and third sets which in previous games would have been the platform for him to go on and win. Murray, however, showed a resilience that has not been there before and under the severest of pressure played his best tennis and emerge the deserved winner.

These players have been friendly opponents since they were 12, play a very similar style of tennis and now possess a similar mental strength. In another era one or the other would have gone on to dominate in the way of a Bjorn Bourg, Pete Sampras or Roger Federer. It’s their fate they will trade Championships, titles and the World Crown. Their fate and our luck.

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9 Responses to Andy Murray & Novak Djokovic: Who has the Edge?

  1. Roger July 8, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    What impressed me in this match was how each was broken so often, not something normally seen in tennis, and it seemed to come from great play not failing service game. If a tennis match could be called brutal, this was it. I think these two will be trading blows for some time. It is interesting that they both also have knowledge of what real life is – Murray was queueing to go into the gym when the kids in the gym were gunned down, Djocovik was brought up in a town being bombed. Tennis after these is important but not everything?

    • Mark July 8, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

      Hi Rodger, thanks for this. I hadn’t thought of the link there between Dunblane and Djokovic’s time in Belgrade as nato Jets targeted the town. Very relevant.

  2. Adrian Johnson July 9, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    Not to take anything away from Andy Murray’s fantastic Wimbledon Championship, I think Djokovic’s very hard fought semi final against Delpotro is, at least, part of the reason why he was not able to win the third set in the final. No one would have predicted that, once Djokovoc got his nose in front, he would lose that set. Yes that is tribute to the new positive mental strength of Murray. But it is also likely that Djokovic was tired. Where Murray’s quarter and semi finals were difficult, they served to further confirm his self belief (as mentionedby Mark). Djokovic however, had to dig a bit deeper and although he had 48hrs to recover, I think he had not, not fully… great. If Delpotro can find that form again he will feature in the next few years.

    A point about legacy. British tennis does not think it is an exclusive sport because “anyone can join a club, it’s only £15 a month.” There is no access to tennis for inner City kids. This is where the future champions should come from, not the comfortable privileged miiddle class kids that currently play. Inner city kids have access to soccer, boxing and basketball but not tennis (and most other sports). We should build a lot of tennis courts, half courts and quarter courts with a bounce wall and a retaining fence and a metal net to stop vandalism. Then we should change the rules on funding and fund qualified coaches to go train kids in these deprived areas… just saying Mark.

  3. Mark July 9, 2013 at 10:07 am #

    HI Ada, thanks for your comments. Djoko did hint at being tired after his semi final, that was the point he was making about ‘explosivity’ in his legs. He normally recovers well in 48 hours but maybe it had an effect. If he believes it did then it’s another way he maintains that impress Formula mental strength.

    Your legacy point is an important one. I wonder how long British Tennis will continue to be funded unless they address accessibility.

  4. richard wareham July 9, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    At what point does making external reasons for failure turn into need to avoid failure and taking responsability for internal reasons develop into need to acheive motivation?

    • Mark July 9, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

      Richard, very good point. This is the one area in the impress Formula to use with caution. If taken too far it can prevent an objective analysis of what needs to improve. It’s still very important p[art of mental strength. In this case Djokovic may not be crediting Murray enough for his performance but even if he is being slightly unrealistic he is maintaining that world renowned mental strength. hopefully his coaches will help him identify any areas of weakness that need work.

  5. Andrew Sillitoe (@AndrewSillitoe) July 9, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    My prediction has always been that once Murray wins Wimbledon the flood gates will open, my expectation is that he will dominate tennis for the next 3-5 years.

    Btw fatigue from playing tough previous matches is no excuse at this level….

    • Mark July 9, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Andrew. The resilience he showed coming from behind and his stunning tennis suggests that he will challenge more consistently. Do you think Nadal & Djoko will be unable to match the same levels of intensity mentally, technically and tactically.

  6. Rob Ball July 9, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    For sport to be great, it requires great competitors (ignore Nadal and Federer, even at his age, at your metaphorical peril). This is an astonishing time for tennis and context will be the determinant.
    Grass/clay/indoor… Host country/previous tournaments/fitness…
    The psychological edge will only be observable over an extended period, not from one contest. Now coaches have to earn their keep bur, personally, I hope no single individual becomes too dominant.

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