Is Djokovic v Murray now the biggest rivalry in men’s tennis?

Before the 2013 Australian Open even began, there was plenty of talk concerning the history that Djokovic or Murray would make, should either of them claim the first of the year’s grand slam titles.

Djokovic was aiming to be the first player in the Open era to win three successive titles in Melbourne. Murray, having won his first Grand Slam title with the US Open in September, was looking to become the first player to follow up a maiden title by winning back-to-back titles.

It was fitting then, that these two should contest the final, as they did two years ago. Last year, the two men faced each other in a gruelling five hour semi final, and a match that could have gone either way with only the finest of margins separating the players.

Djokovic won both of those meetings – as he did in the 2013 final earlier today – but Murray’s five-set win against the same opponent when they met in New York only four months ago is evidence that he’s more than capable on his day of triumphing over the world number 1.

On route to the final, Murray claimed his first win over Roger Federer in a grand slam event. It would be premature to suggest that Murray has overtaken Federer in the men’s game, but it was nonetheless a significant victory, and one which could have been achieved in straight sets had the Brit been more clinical.

If Murray can improve on his dismal showing during last year’s clay court season, there’s every chance of him improving his ATP World Tour ranking enough to leapfrog Federer and head into Roland Garros as the second best player in the world.

In fighting off the challenge of Djokovic to reclaim the world number 1 spot in 2011, Federer proved to his doubters that he’s still amongst the sport’s best, but there must surely be questions over just how long he’ll be able to compete with the likes of Djokovic and Murray in five set tennis.

And with Rafa Nadal far from certain of retaining his position amongst the elite after such a long injury lay-off, there looks to be very few players capable of challenging the dominance of Djokovic or the emergence of Murray.

That could either offer tennis fans with many fascinating battles between the sport’s top two stars, as it did during the period between 2006 and 2008 when Nadal rose to the challenge of toppling Roger Federer, or it could lead to a predictable state of affairs, where the two finalists may as well be handed a passage straight through to the final for lack of any serious threats elsewhere.

For me, the lack of progress made from players such as Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro has been disappointing.

A series of injuries certainly affected Del Potro for a lengthy period after he won the 2009 US Open, but he’s fought his way back into the top ten, and has the ability to be causing problems for the very best players.

Similarly, Berdych and Tsonga both have the talent to be more of a threat, but simply don’t look any closer to breaking into the elite than they did three or four years ago.

Each of those two players have long had the ability to challenge the top players when they meet, as well as having the potential to get much closer to competing for and winning the biggest prizes.

But with each major tournament that goes by, there’s a similar outcome whenever a top four seed is pitted against an opponent ranked in the lower half of the top ten. Berdych and Tsonga both showed glimpses of their ability to produce tennis of the highest quality in their respective matches against Djokovic and Federer, but neither genuinely looked like upsetting the odds.

Amongst the younger players, I was looking forward to seeing how Milos Raonic coped in his fourth round match with Federer. Raonic clearly has plenty of potential but failed to provide any real test for Federer, who in the TV commentary was described as “looking bored” as he closed in on a comfortable victory.

The previous round had resulted in Bernard Tomic – another player touted for future success – send crashing out by Federer in straight sets.

In a sport that was ruled by Federer, taken over by Nadal and then by Djokovic, there appears at the moment to be only one genuine contender to the Serb’s status as world number 1 – Andy Murray.

Nadal v Federer was a rivalry developed in tournaments all over the world on every surface. Murray and Djokovic have each played in three of the last four grand slam finals, and the evidence suggests that the pair could contest many more, in a rivalry that is shaping up to be the fiercest on the men’s tour.

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