The rivalry between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, which began when they were 13 years old, may dominate men’s tennis for years to come, six-time Grand Slam champion Boris Becker said.
Djokovic, who will end the season as the world’s top-ranked player for the second straight year, is drawn in the same group as Murray at the ATP World Tour Finals and is rated the favorite to win the season-ending event ahead of the Scot.
Their matchup at the eight-man tournament in London is the latest step in a rivalry that may replace the one shared by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have 28 major singles titles between them, according to Becker.
“Djokovic and Murray have the edge right now,” he said in a Nov. 2 interview in London. “Federer against Nadal was one of the best rivalries ever, and they had it for five years. Djokovic versus Murray could be the next.”
Murray opens the tournament today in Group A against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, while Djokovic of Serbia faces France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the evening session. Defending champion Federer was placed in Group B, which starts tomorrow.
Federer, 31, won a record sixth ATP Finals title last year and beat Murray at Wimbledon for his 17th major championship. A month later, Murray defeated Federer in the gold medal match at the London Olympics and again in the semifinals of the Shanghai Masters last month.
“He’s lost his edge at the moment, he’s 10 percent below what he was in the summer,” Becker said of Federer, who exited the U.S. Open in the quarterfinals in September and was beaten by Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina in the finals of his hometown tournament in Basel a week before London.
Bookmakers agree, rating Federer the third choice to win the title this week.
Djokovic is the 15-8 favorite at Ladbrokes Plc in the U.K. to win a second ATP Finals title. That means a successful $8 bet would return $15 plus the original stake. Third-ranked Murray of Britain is second favorite at 5-2, followed by Federer at 11-4.
French Open champion Nadal has been sidelined with a knee injury since he was knocked out in the second round at Wimbledon in June. The winner of 11 major titles is aiming to return at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi at the end of December.
Federer and Nadal, 26, have played each other 28 times in the past eight years with the Spanish left-hander leading 18-10.
“We cannot forget Roger and Rafa who are still the most successful active players on the tour,” Djokovic said last week in Paris when asked if he and Murray are beginning to dominate. “Rafa had the misfortune of being injured, but he’s always a contender to win any tournament that he plays. Roger is still playing on a very high level.”
Murray said he and Djokovic are a “long way off” emulating the Federer-Nadal rivalry. Djokovic leads their career meetings 9-7, with the pair tied 3-3 this season.
“Some of the matches we’ve had this year, they were high quality matches, fun to watch,” Murray said. “I’m all for playing more of those matches.”
Aged 25 and born a week apart, Djokovic and Murray’s paths first crossed at a junior tournament in the French town of Tarbes, to the north of Lourdes. Murray won 6-0, 6-1.
Judy Murray, Andy’s mother and Britain’s Fed Cup coach, can still recall their early matches.
“I remember Andy playing Djokovic when he was under 14 and he had a really solid backhand and he could really hurt but he wasn’t consistent enough at that age,” she said in an interview last year. “But you could see the weapons that they could develop.”
Although they became friends, Djokovic broke into the top 100 and the top 10 before Murray and won his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in 2008. Murray broke through in September, ending a 76-year major singles title drought for British men by winning the U.S. Open.
The impact of Murray’s victory over Djokovic in New York -- after four previous losses in Grand Slam finals -- will be felt for years to come, Becker said.
“In the next 2 1/2 years, Murray’s going to add more to the one he already has,” Becker said. “There isn’t anybody that’s impossible to beat for him anymore. Federer at 25 was different than Federer now at 31. Nadal at 22, injury-free, is different from Nadal now. So his toughest opponent really is Djokovic.”