Tennis: Why Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray Are the Sport's Next Big Rivalry

Griffin Kurzius@@GriffDaddyKCorrespondent INovember 10, 2012


Since Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic's rise to prominence, fans and experts alike pinpointed them as the game’s next intriguing rivalry.

Now that Murray’s coronation into a Grand Slam champion is complete—taking place against Djokovic—the two can finally fulfill the prophecy.

But there is still one tennis rivalry they haven't toppled, yet.

For the better part of a decade, the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal duel have captivated sports fans alike. The duality of the men created a perfect script. Fluid versus rugged. Effortless versus backbreaking. Traditional versus new age. Righty versus lefty. Grass versus clay. Swiss mountains versus Spanish islands.

As sad as it is to say, the best of Federer-Nadal is behind us.

Federer’s return to No. 1 in the world was remarkable and inspiring, but he is 31 years old. In his waning years on the ATP, he will exclusively focus his attention and energy on Majors, limiting the amount of matches he will play. Federer has had a clean bill of health his entire career, but can his health last? And how many more years can he continue to play at an elite level?

On the other hand, Nadal’s physical style of play caught up with him. At only 26, he has endured chronic knee issues, which have lingered for several years now.

It is clear that hard-court surfaces are too firm for his knees. It might be best if he skips most of the physically and mentally grueling U.S. Open Series. Regardless, the King of Clay will be forced to pick and choose his tournaments to play in for the sake of his longevity.

But do not fear, the Djokovic-Murray rivalry is here to stay.

The similarities between the men are undeniable.

On the court, they are the two best counter-punchers in today’s game, using their tremendous athletic prowess to retrieve every ball. Both play from the baseline and neither possesses an overbearing serve. But both players are incredible service returners—resulting in many service breaks in their matches.

Off the court, they are the faces of their country. They both love soccer. Most importantly, they both share a burning passion to become the best. Their competitive spirit is unmatched.

The duo has a deep history, growing up together on the European junior circuit, first playing at age 11.

They also are the same age—Murray only a week older than Djokovic.

Adding to the intrigue, the two are good friends.

Their friendship will foster a new kind of rivalry. Tennis is accustomed to animosity in its rivalries. John McEnroe-Jimmy Connors. McEnroe-Ivan Lendl. Andre Agassi-Pete Sampras. Federer and Nadal are cordial, but by no means good friends.

Djokovic-Murray matches will be fraught with blood, sweat and a lot of tears.

So far, their battles have been close, Djokovic clinging to a 10-7 lead. This year, they faced each other seven times, Djokovic with a 4-3 lead—but Murray won in the all-important Grand Slam Final in New York. Four of those matches have gone the distance.

The Serb made an earlier break for world dominance—forging a Big Three with Federer and Nadal. Murray stood on the fringe of the greats and the rest of the pack, making occasional breakthroughs and reaching Major finals, with no avail.

In 2011, Djokovic had a historic season, going 70-6 and collecting three Majors.

He has jumped out to an early lead, but he is only on mile eight in a marathon.

He has five Grand Slams to Murray's one and will finish the season ranked No. 1 in the world for the second-straight season. Murray leapfrogged Nadal to land at the No. 3 spot.

But Murray finally has something he lacked his entire career—the mental fortitude to win when necessary. Ballyhooed for his inability to win the big one, Murray proved doubters wrong by defeating Federer at the Olympics in his own country. He lived up to the moment and fulfilled his dreams  in London-- a once in a life time opportunity. He followed it up with his win five set win over Djokovic in New York.

He finally has the bravado necessary to become No. 1 in the world.

Novak, watch out, Andy is gunning for you.

It will be a long, windy roller coaster ride.

But all tennis fans are on the line looking forward to the thrilling, stomach-dropping, heart-wrenching, intense, memorable moments that make rivalries special.