Some like it hot – so it's advantage Murray, who can win a marathon

Question marks over Djokovic's durability with temperatures set to hit 41C today. The heart says Briton has more strings to his bow but must go the distance to triumph
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The Independent Online

There cannot be many Scottish sportsmen who would come to this part of the world hoping that the temperature would carry on soaring, but Andy Murray will probably have enjoyed the weather forecast here yesterday on the eve of his Australian Open final against Novak Djokovic.

After one of the coolest fortnights for this time of the year that local officials can remember, the tournament is set to end in much more familiar conditions. The afternoon temperature is expected to hit 41C, while a temperature of 34C is predicted by the time the two finalists walk out on court at around 7.30pm (8.30am GMT) today.

It could even be hot enough for the retractable roof over Rod Laver Arena to be closed and the air conditioning turned on. "The decision will be made just before play is due to start," Craig Tiley, the tournament director, said. "That decision will be based on the conditions at the time and the forecast for the rest of the match."

Although it might be difficult to imagine anyone actually wanting to play in such heat, Murray knows that it could give him a crucial advantage. In the past the 23-year-old Scot has handled similar conditions better than his Serbian rival. Djokovic, who nevertheless has had 24 more hours than Murray to recover from his semi-final exertions, has worked hard to improve his durability, but two years ago he retired with heat exhaustion in the fourth set of his quarter-final here against Andy Roddick.

While Djokovic dismissed any concerns that the heat would be a factor – "It's going to be the evening, with no sun, so I'm looking forward to that" – Murray did not sound quite so sure. "I wouldn't expect it to be too much of an issue," he said. "If it is an issue for him, then that's obviously an advantage for me, but I'm not going into the match thinking that will be a problem for him. You just have to see what happens when you are out there."

The local bookmakers see Djokovic as the favourite, while a common consensus within the tennis world is that if Murray is to win, he might have to go the distance. Djokovic, the world No 3 and champion three years ago, has been in magnificent form and delivered the performance of the tournament so far when he beat Roger Federer in the semi-finals.

Murray, the world No 5 and the runner-up 12 months ago, reached his third Grand Slam final in less convincing fashion. There were spells during his four-set victory over David Ferrer when he showed his full array of talents, hitting some magnificent shots, but he was too tentative at the start and became careless towards the end.

John Newcombe, one of Australia's greatest former champions, summed up the views of many. "I was very impressed with Djokovic in his semi-final, not so impressed with Murray," he said. "He played a defensive style of game, the sort that Ferrer enjoyed. It was pretty hard to understand when Andy's got another game.

"If he brings that B game he's got no chance tomorrow. He changed it around halfway through, but how lucky was he not to be down two sets? On some very big points he got the first serves in when he hadn't been getting in any before. That saved him. Otherwise he would have been two sets to love down and who knows what would have happened then." Nevertheless, there are other reasons for Murray's supporters to feel confident. While Djokovic won their first four meetings on the main tour, Murray has won the last three. Two were in Masters Series finals and all three were on hard courts, although the most recent was nearly two years ago. With Djokovic and Murray so often seeded Nos 3 and 4 behind Federer and Rafael Nadal, they have grown accustomed to being in opposite halves of the draw.

Both men like the surface and the balls here, which make the conditions significantly slower than at the US Open. "The way the court plays changes a lot depending on the heat," Murray said. "Because it's been quite cool here, that's slowed the pace of the court down a bit. But for me the court here is the best for my game and I can see why Novak would reallylike it as well."

Djokovic's game, hitting powerfullyfrom the baseline, rarely changes. Murray has more strings to his bow and the tactics he devises in consultation with his coaching team are likely to prove crucial.

The Scot has achieved much of his success as a counter-puncher and knows he must not forget that, even if he cannot afford to hit the ball short to Djokovic. However, Murray is at his very best when he combines his natural ability to defend with the attacking flair he clearly possesses. Against Ferrer, the Scot hit superb winners from both flanks and showed, on occasions, that he has some of the best volleys in the game.

Thoughtless attacking will get him nowhere, but controlled aggression could deliver the prize for which he has been striving for so long.

The heart says Murray can win a marathon, although the head says that Djokovic may not allow the contest to run that far.

The final is on BBC2 from 8.15am

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