SmashDebate: Djokovic or Murray in 2018?

Published by Bede Briscomb & Matt Trollope

Can Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray dominate again in 2018? Getty Images
In the latest SmashDebate, Tennismash staff writers Bede Briscomb and Matt Trollope go toe-to-toe over Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

Together, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray make up one half of tennis’ ‘Big Four’.

After almost a decade of dominance, Djokovic missed most of 2017 with an elbow injury. Likewise for Murray, who hasn’t played since the quarterfinals of Wimbledon due to a hip issue. Both men are sorely missed, and many are expecting them to launch back into the top five very quickly in 2018. But whose bounce back year is going to be the best?

Let’s debate….

SMASH DEBATE: Who’s better, Maria or Venus?

Briscomb: Nole

Here’s my super-scientific reason for saying Djokovic: he’s better.

(Way) more Grand Slams, (way) more titles, a (way) longer period of dominance,  better head-to-head record, better head-to-head record in majors and, finally, the best win-loss record against the respective members of the ‘Big Four’.

And also, just because I fight dirty:

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Trollope: Andy Murray

Oh hi Bede.

That picture is hilarious. And I can’t argue with those statistics. Novak is better than Andy in pretty much every aspect of the game imaginable. But I think in a somewhat weird way, Djokovic may be a victim of that success.

Consider this: when they both return to the tour in 2018, who has more to play for?

I say Murray does, by a long way. Nothing will fuel motivation more than the 0-5 record Murray has in Australian Open finals. The desire to rise back up the rankings after slipping down from his No.1 perch won’t hurt, either.

Djokovic hasn’t been the same player since he won Roland Garros in 2016. And that’s because that result completed his tennis CV. Apart from an Olympic gold medal, he’s won everything there is to win in the sport. He’s been No.1. He owns a career Grand Slam. He’s won the Davis Cup, the ATP Finals, countless ATP Masters titles. He’s beaten everyone there is to beat – multiple times over. What’s left to play for? Another Australian Open title? Sure, that’d be nice, but he already has six of those.

I think Murray’s hunger will give him a gritty edge when we see him back in the game …

A fair assessment?

SMASH DEBATE: who’s the Player of the Year, Roger or Rafa?

Briscomb

About as fair as Nikolay Davydenko! Novak has way, way, way more to play for than Andy…

All year he’s been reading the same headline: ‘Who’s the GOAT – Rafa or Roger?’ At 29-years-old he had won just two fewer majors than Rafa and four fewer than Roger. Murray is light years behind those three and therefore has much less incentive to endure a painful hip injury to catch them.

A prime Djokovic is arguably the best tennis player of all time — see 2011, where he won 43 matches in a row. Or, when he held all four Grand Slams and the ATP Finals championship simultaneously. Or, when he beat all top 10 players in one year. But Novak wouldn’t be happy with that; he’s not wired that way. When it’s all said and done, Djokovic wants to be the one with the goat emoji beside his name.

If the Serbian performs in 2018 the way we know he’s capable of, Roger, Rafa, Stan and Andy better watch out.

Trollope

Way, way more to play for? Then what did you make of this comment, from the man himself?

“I used to base all my happiness on winning a tennis match. So I try not to do that anymore. I would love to win every single tennis match, but I don’t try to take that as the very essential moment in my life which determines my happiness.”

After hearing that, and seeing his demeanour on court since that Roland Garros win of 2016, I’m not convinced being the “GOAT” is quite as important to him as it once was.

And I think those numbers you mentioned need revisiting. Djokovic trailed Federer by FIVE majors at age 29 – but that’s an irrelevant statistic now, given that as of 2017, he trails Federer by SEVEN majors, and trails Rafa by four. He could win the whole damn Grand Slam in 2018 – do you see that happening? – and still trail Federer by three. Federer and Nadal have put more runs on the board in the GOAT debate, and although Novak still has plenty of time to catch them, he’s got a long way to go.

Murray has the incentive of the misses in his career to keep the fire burning. Winning that elusive Australian Open title. Getting a few wins back against the other members of the Big Four.

I think his desire is stronger, based on what he hasn’t won.

Briscomb

I love that quote. A tennis player who can put everything in perspective is always going to be more mature on the court.

But I see your point, Andy’s losses may fuel the bigger fire. Only time will tell. But I’ll take the better player coming off a recovering elbow (as opposed to a recovering hip – which, by the way, is the first injury you get when your body is breaking down. Don’t believe me? Go ask any grandad who ever lived.) all day, every day.

As for the Grand Slam numbers, it’s not as simple as 19 vs 12. Some tournaments are much harder than others – are you gonna tell me Rafa’s 2017 US Open, in which he beat no player from the top ten, is worth the same as Djokovic’s 2011 Australian Open, in which he beat two of the top four?

No. But anyway, that’s a debate for another day…

Trollope

I’d say it’s worth roughly the same as Djokovic’s Wimbledon 2011 title, where he met just one top-15 player en route to the trophy. Stats are fun to cherry-pick, aren’t they? 😉

I’ll agree that hip injuries are never good – Murray’s had to manage that issue on-and-off for years. But neither are the chronic back troubles that have followed Federer for the last several years. Or the shoulder-related problems Maria Sharapova has suffered since 2007. Or the elbow issue that recently forced Ana Konjuh to undergo a second surgery on in the space of three years.

Novak’s injury is no easier to deal with than Murray’s – especially given he admitted it had been a problem for a long time.

All I can say is I’m thrilled they’ll both be back next year. The men’s tour is STRUGGLING at the moment and these two champions will inject some heft back into the game. And given they’ll have low seedings at Australian Open 2018, it will be a case of cats among the pigeons.

Bring it on.

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