I was 99.9 percent sure that Andy Murray would beat Milos Raonic.
Sounds disgustingly arrogant, does it not? Forgive me – it is honestly not supposed to come across that way. I saw five points of the entire match, so I don’t feel at liberty to comment on the chances missed, the strategies used and the quality of play (of which I have heard wildly differing accounts.) There is just a certain pattern that seems to guarantee Andy Murray safe passage through the majority of matches that look akin to the one he played against Milos Raonic. So I thought I would highlight it.
Stranded away from home whilst the match took place, I checked in with the score to see Raonic up 7-5 3-3 in the clash. My immediate comment was: “Andy Murray’s on track for the win in three sets.”
The report was that Milos Raonic was playing well heading into the second set tiebreak, but there was not a single part of me that thought he would win it. After he lost it, the chances of a Raonic win – despite comments of Murray fatigue – seemed to me to be next to none.
Honestly, the Canadian surprised me by getting to match point – and did not surprise me when he left the O2 Arena on the wrong side of a 5-7 7-6(5) 7-6(9) scoreline.
During the second and third sets of his clash with the world no. 1, Milos Raonic was attempting to do something I have spoken of before. He was attempting to defy the unwritten laws of the ATP World Tour. These long, tight matches, whether clinical or littered with errors, are supposed to be won by Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray. Whether or not the Big Four member is playing well, they tend to come out alive by virtue of a rock-hard mentality – and a big name. As time has gone on, Murray – perhaps due to a game-style that has constantly demanded him to defend well on the back foot – has become a master of the trade. However many miss-hits he throws down, however many double faults he hits, and however many chances he gifts, he does not go away. You have to give him credit.
But the result is not limited to this. The full extent and theory of these invisible laws cannot be explained, but it is a combination of the opponent’s staying power, the opponent’s name, and the enormity of the occasion, that basically confirms the final result. Especially when the opponent is Andy Murray.
It was something that I said for a long time about Maria Sharapova. When the Russian was caught for drugs and everyone was saying this was the end, that she would never return to tennis, I disagreed. Why? Because A, there will always be those smaller WTA events who will offer wild-cards to a woman who will draw crowds. And B, because she still has the locker room power that she held before. From the world no. 500 to the world no. 50, not a single woman will face Maria Sharapova with nothing to lose. They will play her with the notion that they can beat her, and the fierce desire – fuelled either by disdain or ambition – to beat her. And the self-inflicted pressure will likely be their undoing.
That’s part of the combination when it comes to duelling Murray. And – if the upset is to be produced consistently by the opposing player – experience is the lone lethal weapon. That is why Kei Nishikori was a code-breaker at the US Open, but Milos Raonic was not quite able to come through at the World Tour Finals. When the chances came, he bottled. The mind has the power both to unleash and to restrain, and one tiny particle out of control can make a huge amount of difference.
FINAL PREVIEW AND PREDICTION
A couple of hours after Andy Murray and Milos Raonic’s three hour 36 minute marathon, Novak Djokovic thrashed Kei Nishikori 6-1 6-1. It was the latter’s third loss of the event, and he had confessed beforehand that the situation was tough to deal with mentally. But on the other side of the net, the Serb grabbed the opportunity to showcase his best performance of the week. It was not perfect, but he owned the big moments and – in his own words – ‘executed everything he planned’. The old confidence was virtually reinstated.
Djokovic dominates his head-to-head record with Murray 24-10. At the beginning of the tournament, with the world no. 2 looking mentally vulnerable and physically wobbly, I would probably have picked Andy Murray to edge a clash between the duo. Nevertheless, with Murray fatigued, in his first ATP World Tour Finals final, and under a roof, I think the man who held the top ranking less than three weeks ago will hold the advantage.
Has Novak Djokovic been tested enough? I don’t think it really matters.
PREDICTION: Novak Djokovic in two (tight) sets.