Experts' predictions: Men's final
Novak Djokovic (above) has faced off against Andy Murray just once in the past two-and-a-half years, in the final of the Miami Masters in April 2009. (AP)
We asked SI.com's experts to predict Sunday's Australian Open men's final between No. 3 Novak Djokovic and No. 5 Andy Murray (3 a.m. ET, ESPN2). Here's what they said:
First, a story. I did a sports talk radio interview today and the host said, “I hope that Serbian kid wins.”
“Okay,” I said. “Why’s that?”
“With Wimbledon and all, don’t the English players always win in tennis? It’s like, ‘Give a guy another from another country a chance!’”
As with the women’s final, it’s better for tennis from a marketing perspective if the guy from Scotland/Britain wins, thus ending a drought that extends to the Mezioic Era or thereabouts. But the edge goes to Djokovic, who’s won this event before, has an extra day of rest, beat Federer in a brilliant semifinal match, and is an underrated strategist. A big opportunity for both men in the absence of the two Alpha Dogs. Still if Djokovic can serve close to the level he reached in the semis, he ought to be a multiple Grand Slam winner by the end of the weekend. Djokovic in four.
An absolute toss-up. Intangibles like that semifinal win over Roger Federer and the fact that he's already won a major title would seem to give Novak Djokovic the edge, not to mention that all the weight of Great Britain's massive historical need now presses down on Andy Murray. But Murray has beaten Djoko the last three times they've played on hardcourt, and he's as far, far away from home as he can get. The head says Djokovic, but the gut says otherwise. Murray in five.
The consensus view seems to point toward Andy Murray's good fortune, avoiding potential elimination when the injured Rafael Nadal lost to David Ferrer. I don't see it that way. Murray was tremendously impressive in defeating the creative Alexandr Dolgopolov, and only the fittest, most intelligent player can dispatch David Ferrer with such ease. Still, I'm not sure Murray is ready to make history in the United Kingdom. Djokovic moves just as well, has a better knack for the finish, and has developed his serve into one of the sport's most dangerous weapons. His mind is at ease, and he's at the top of his game. Djokovic in four.
Bravo to the Brit for getting to this point because plenty thought he was a non-factor heading into the tournament. But he runs into a player who is playing sensational tennis, and loves the surface. Murray will show fight, but The Djoker comes home in four. Djokovic in four.
Bryan Armen Graham
It's almost bizarre these longtime friends have played just seven times on tour -- Djokovic leads 4-3 -- and never at a Slam. But an already inadequate sample size is rendered moot when you consider how both of their games (and psyches) have evolved since their last meeting nearly two years ago in Miami. Murray has played outstanding tennis over the past two weeks and the airspace below the radar befits him; he won't go down easily. But Djokovic's penetrative serve and powerful groundstrokes looked unbeatable in Thursday's three-set beatdown of Federer -- and the extra 24 hours of rest will only feed his self-confidence. Djokovic in five.
It’s tough to bet against Murray. He cruised through his first four matches and handled his fifth -- against upstart Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine -- with aplomb. But Djokovic has taken his game to another level. The strokes haven’t changed, but his mindset is like I’ve never seen it before. Where before he was cocky, now he’s just confident; his triumphs over Federer at the U.S. Open and with Serbia at Davis Cup seem like they’ve really boosted his self-belief. Two days ago in the semi, Djokovic beat Federer at his own hyper-aggressive game. Though the third-seeded Serbian doesn’t have Murray’s variety (few do), Djokovic is a gifted mimic. I wouldn’t be surprised if he summoned a handful of impersonations of Murray -- especially at the net -- and that they wound up being the difference in the match. Djokovic in four. Click here for SI.com's women's final picks. Share your prediction in the comments below.