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Andy Murray: Djokovic will shoulder bulk of the pressure

By Paul Newman

Published 05/06/2015

Into the swing: Andy Murray
gears up for his French Open
semi-final against Novak
Djokovic
Into the swing: Andy Murray gears up for his French Open semi-final against Novak Djokovic

It could be argued that no player in the modern era has faced more pressure than Andy Murray did in his two Wimbledon finals, which is why the Scot will understand what might be going through Novak Djokovic's mind as the two men prepare to face each other in this afternoon's French Open semi-final.

Murray bore the weight of three-quarters of a century of history at Wimbledon, where Fred Perry had been the last home-grown men's singles champion in 1936. Djokovic, meanwhile, knows that his place among the sport's all-time greats could be at stake here.

If the 28-year-old Serb lifts the trophy he will become only the eighth man - after Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal - to win a 'career Grand Slam' of the sport's four Major titles.

Djokovic has been attempting to join that elite group ever since he added the US Open to his Australian Open and Wimbledon crowns in 2011.

The world No 1, who ended Nadal's attempt to win the title here for the 10th time by beating him in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, has admitted that he put too great a burden of expectation on himself in subsequent visits to Roland Garros.

Murray knows how hard it can be to avoid that scenario when you want something so badly.

"You put extreme amounts of pressure on yourself to do it," the Scot said. "You would say this is Novak's best chance now to do it, having beaten Rafa. No one that is left in the tournament has won the event. He goes into the semi-finals as the most experienced player. That's pressure.

"To win the career Grand Slam is an extremely difficult thing to do. That's why so few people have done it. He will obviously put a lot of pressure on himself to try to do it this year."

Murray's clay-court pedigree is nothing like Nadal's, but the world No 3 has just claimed his first two titles on the surface and has won all 15 matches he has played on clay this year.

This is the only Grand Slam tournament where he has not made the final, but this afternoon he will clearly be dealing with a much lower level of expectation than his opponent.

Djokovic acknowledged Murray's improvement on clay this year and said: "He's extremely talented. He's a great fighter and somebody that has a lot of experience playing in big matches."

After a predominantly chilly tournament, the weather is predicted to let rip this afternoon. Temperatures are forecast to reach 33C and there is a threat of thunderstorms. Djokovic used to wilt in the heat but has coped much better with extreme conditions in recent years.

"Heat makes the conditions quicker," Murray said. "The ball travels through the air faster so points potentially can be shorter. But any long point you play in 33-degree heat is tough. You lose your breath.

"Here we've been playing in pretty pleasant conditions. You don't get as out of breath and it's much, much easier to recover between the points. It makes things tough. I'll try to use that to my advantage. I have played Novak many times and had tough, close physical battles with him."

Djokovic has beaten Murray seven times in a row, but they have met only twice on clay, most recently when the Scot lost a deciding tie-break in Rome four years ago.

The Serb is on a 27-match winning streak and has lost only two matches this year.

"It's a huge task," Murray said. "I'll try to get myself prepared as best I can. I've never prepared for a semi-final of the French Open better than I have this time."

The day's first semi-final will see France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga take on Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka.

Tsonga, the only one of the semi-finalists who has not won a Grand Slam, is attempting to become the first Frenchman to win the title since Yannick Noah in 1983.

Belfast Telegraph

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