• Chris Wilkinson

Murray and Djokovic can eclipse Roger-Rafa rivalry

Chris Wilkinson October 16, 2012
© PA Photos

Andy Murray may have missed out on a hat-trick of Shanghai Masters titles in China last week, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not a major crisis.

When you look at what Murray has achieved this year - particularly over the summer - reaching the Wimbledon final, winning Olympic gold and then the US Open, I don't think he will be too worried about losing to Djokovic in Sunday's final.

It's the sixth time they've played each other this year, each winning three times apiece, and there have been some real crackers, particularly in the grand slams - Djokovic's epic 6-3 3-6 6-7(4) 6-1 7-5 semi-final win in Melbourne and then Murray's victory in New York last month.

I think we've seen the handing over of the baton this year - Murray versus Djokovic is the new big rivalry in men's tennis.

It remains to be seen just how much more Nadal will play and whether he likes it or not Federer is coming to the latter stages of his career. Their time is coming to an end.

Murray and Djokovic were born just a week apart and have known each other since they were juniors and they are so evenly matched. I genuinely believe they are capable of eclipsing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as the greatest rivalry in men's tennis.

There's still something missing I think - Roger and Rafa have a special something that is hard to put your finger on - but it's still early days for Murray and Djokovic - and virtually every match they play turns out to be an epic - even their three-set match on Sunday lasted well over three hours.

I also think we're also seeing the next generation coming through. I was in Tokyo a fortnight ago where I saw two players of the future, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic, battle it out in the Japan Open final. Those guys - although very different in their playing styles - both have the potential to succeed the likes of Djokovic and Murray at the top of the men's game.

This time last year Djokovic and Federer didn't play in Shanghai, and it seemed like the players were easing down for the off-season already. I think the main difference is that no one player has dominated this year - Djokovic was streets ahead of the opposition last season, so there was very little left to play for in terms of ranking places by this time last year.

But Djokovic has his sights firmly set on finishing the year at No. 1, while Federer, who has just passed 300 weeks at the top, will have no intention of letting top spot go without a fight. I think Djokovic will end the year at No. 1 as Federer has a lot of points to defend, but it makes for a thrilling end to the season.

I think Djokovic also burnt himself out a bit last year but there seems to be a bit more life in some of the players this season. Obviously it is a shame Nadal looks unlikely to appear again before 2013, but there is no sign of any end-of-season-itis for any of the others.

David Ferrer has now booked his place at the ATP World Tour Finals in London so there are three, potentially four places left up for grabs. It looks like Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin Del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will get the remaining spots so it should be a really high class field. If Nadal, as expected, pulls out, then I think Janko Tipsarevic will be back for a second year.

There is no sign of any end-of-season-itis for any of the others.

Most of the top players pick up between 30 and 40 per cent of their annual ranking points at Masters events so with Paris still to come there is still plenty to play for and I'd love to see Raonic make a late bid for a place - he has a big game and really has the potential to mix things up in London.

It's great to see that Wimbledon men's doubles champions Jonathan Marray and Fredrik Nielsen have qualified for London, and we could see Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins make it too, which will be great news for the home fans at the O2 Arena.

It's been quite a year for British tennis, what with Murray ending Britain's 76-year wait for a men's singles grand slam champion, and then Heather Watson winning her first WTA title in Osaka last week - the first Brit in 24 years.

Only a couple weeks previously Laura Robson was the first British woman since Jo Durie in 1990 to reach a WTA final and they are really playing off each other's successes - it looked like Robson was going to be the first one to break the WTA top 50, but Watson just snuck in ahead of her.

We talk about Djokovic and Murray but Watson and Robson have got a real rivalry going - they are good friends off the court and very different characters on it, but it's great for British tennis that they are spurring each other on.

Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1

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Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.