Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic ready to cross swords after five years apart | Tennis

When Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray last looked at each other on the tennis court in 2017, the period marked a slight shift in the dynamic of their long-running rivalry. They were born a week apart, they had known each other since childhood and they both broke into the ATP at exactly the same time, yet Djokovic had been the highest-ranked player in each of their first 34 professional encounters.

It took the season of Murray’s life in 2016 for him to finally, fleetingly place himself above Djokovic, usurping him as No. 1 at the end of the season. Looking back, however, it took it all.

A few months later, Murray’s hip deteriorated. After a brief stint as Djokovic’s equal, he’s spent the past five years simply trying to find a way to play top-level tennis again without pain. During this same period, Djokovic continued, elevating his legendary status to arguably the greatest player, winning eight more Grand Slam titles.

On Thursday, in the third round of the Madrid Open, the pair will meet for the 37th time under completely different circumstances. Despite his contrasting fortunes, Djokovic is far from at the peak of his powers. After being out for most of the first three months of the year due to his unvaccinated status, his comeback has been difficult. Not only has rust coated his game, but he has struggled a lot with his conditioning.

It’s only a matter of time before Djokovic gets back on his feet and a straight 6-3, 6-2 win over Gaël Monfils in his opener, which extended their head-to-head record to a 18-0, was a useful start. . Following his win, even before his third-round opponent was certain, Djokovic noted Murray’s improved movement while reflecting on his past successes.

Andy Murray plays a shot in his impressive win over Denis Shapovalov.
Andy Murray plays a shot in his impressive win over Denis Shapovalov. Photography: Ella Ling/Shutterstock

“It’s one of the most important names we have,” Djokovic said. “To see him still compete is great, and to see him even playing at the top level over time is impressive, given the surgery and what he’s been through in recent years. His resilience and fighting spirit is truly inspiring. .

It’s been a pretty frustrating year for Murray so far, filled with countless wild cards and second-round losses, often when he meets his first seeded opponent. After another second-round loss in Miami, Murray went through a four-week training block on clay, working hard on his movement and officially joining Ivan Lendl.

Initially, Murray had no plans to feature in the clay-court season at all, but after opting to take a wildcard at Madrid, the fruits of his labor have been clear. Against Denis Shapovalov in the previous round, he capped off his best win of the season with flying colours. His comeback was great, he found big serves under pressure, moved as well as Djokovic watched and confused Shapovalov with his deep shooting toolbox.

Cameron Norrie of Great Britain plays a doubles backhand in his win over John Isner at the Madrid Open.
Cameron Norrie plays a doubles backhand in his win over John Isner. Photography: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Whether he has improved enough to make an impact against the best player in the world remains to be seen, but as Murray reminded viewers in an interview with Amazon Prime, the mere fact that this game exists again and that Murray to defeat a top-20 player to put him up once again, is a huge feat in itself.

“He’s number 1 in the world and I have a metal hip,” Murray said. “I didn’t know that I would have the opportunity to play games like this again. In theory, I shouldn’t have any luck in the game. But I’ve done my best, put myself in a great position and it’s a fantastic opportunity to play against him again on a big court in a huge tournament.

On Wednesday, Britain’s success in Madrid continued as Dan Evans bounced back from a perilous deficit to defeat Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(2). Bautista Agut led 4-2 and 0-40 on Evans’ serve in the third set, then 5-3, but Evans recovered to clinch the match on a tie-break

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Cameron Norrie followed Evans in the third round soon after, beating John Isner 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4.

In the women’s draw, Ons Jabeur emerged as the player to beat after dismantling former champion Simona Halep 6-3, 6-2 to reach the semi-finals.

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