Sport

Murray craves elusive Australian Open crown

Andy Murray of Great Britain during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open.
Andy Murray of Great Britain during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open. JULIAN SMITH

HE'S got the world No.1 ranking, two Wimbledon crowns ... and now a knighthood.

But the title Sir Andy Murray still craves but has so far eluded him is "Australian Open champion”.

The 29-year-old Brit has made the final at Melbourne Park five times - in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016 - without success.

Four of those defeats have been at the hands of his greatest rival Novak Djokovic, who will this year be aiming for a record seventh major in the Victorian capital.

Due to their respective histories at the first grand slam tournament of the year and his win over Murray in the final of the Qatar Open in Doha last week, Djokovic has been installed as favourite to again hold the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.

Djokovic has beaten Murray at the Australian Open five times in total - also getting the better of him in a semi-final in 2012.

But, having been at the peak of his powers for the past six months - and on top of the world for the past 10 weeks since usurping Djokovic as No.1 - Murray is confident of finally conquering Down Under, even if the hunter has suddenly become the hunted.

"I don't feel like I have mental hurdles now,” Murray told The Times. "I feel like I'm past that, to be honest.”

For 'Sir Andy', it's just a matter of executing correctly - something he was reminded of during his latest stoush with "The Djoker” in the Middle East.

"I think I just need to work on my offensive game,” said Murray, who won an ATP-best nine titles in 2016.

"Against Novak (in Doha) I was actually pretty good when I started moving forward, dictated quite a few points, but not as much as I would have liked.

"I was maybe a little bit too far behind the baseline at times.

"There's not loads that I need to work on, I feel like I'm playing good tennis, moving well. A few specifics and I will be all right.”

Djokovic, also 29, will of course have other ideas. Melbourne Park has, after all, become the Serb's own personal happy hunting ground since he broke through for a maiden major there in 2008.

He's lost only once in Melbourne in the past six years - a quarter-final to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka in 2014 - for an incredible 57-6 (90.5%) record.

Djokovic, who matched Roy Emerson's record of six titles (1961, 1963-67) in Melbourne last year, will have regained confidence from his 6-3 5-7 6-4 victory against Murray last week, which gave him an overall 25-11 ascendency between the pair.

"Andy has absolutely deserved to be the No.1 in the world. He's had a tremendous and special last six months of 2016,” said Djokovic, who would need to win the tournament and Murray to be bundled out in the quarters to take back the No.1 ranking he held for 122 straight weeks, and 223 all up, before being overtaken in November.

"This year we've already played a thrilling match and I'm looking forward to our rivalry and many matches to come. In terms of my feelings in coming to Melbourne for the last five or six years, it's pretty much the same.

"I'm very pumped, if I may say, to do well. It's the beginning of the season and we already have our first grand slam.

"I'm not the only one who is excited but it definitely gives me a lot of goosebumps to come back.”

The Australian Open will be far from a two-horse race however, with third-seeded Milos Raonic and fourth-seeded Stan Wawrinka both clear and present dangers.

Wawrinka won the last major, the US Open, to add to his 2014 Australian title, while Raonic was a semi-finalist last year before reaching the final of Wimbledon.

BRIT'S BAD RUN

Andy Murray's losing Australian Open finals

2010 - Federer d Murray 6-3 6-4 7-6 (13-11)

2011 - Djokovic d Murray 6-4 6-2 6-3

2013 - Djokovic d Murray 6-7 (2-7) 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 6-2

2015 - Djokovic d Murray 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 6-0

2016 - Djokovic d Murray 6-1 7-5 7-6 (7-3)

Topics:  andy murray australian open novak djokovic summer of tennis



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