Andy Murray signs autographs for fans after a practice session at Wimbledon… (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty…)
WIMBLEDON, England — The legend of 1936 champion Fred Perry, the last British man to win the Wimbledon singles title, has been Andy Murray's constant companion for years.
The Scotsman has faced questions about Perry — who is commemorated in statue form outside Centre Court — since Murray began ascending the world rankings. At Wimbledon last year, Murray's first chance to make a triumphant reply, he lost a four-set final to Roger Federer.
"Winning Wimbledon," Murray said, "is pretty much the pinnacle of the sport."
Between Murray and another chance to reach that pinnacle stands Serbian Novak Djokovic, also a constant companion but in a different way. The two men, who were born a week apart in 1987 and first faced each other in a junior tournament when they were 11, will meet for the Wimbledon title Sunday on Centre Court — a few hundred yards from that statue of Perry. With so much at stake, there's little separating them.
The key difference is that Djokovic, ranked No. 1 in the world, counts the 2011 Wimbledon championship among his six Grand Slam titles and has an 11-7 head-to-head lead over No. 2 Murray since 2006. Djokovic won their last three matches since Murray beat him twice in a row, on grass in the semifinals of the London Olympic tournament and in five sets on the hard court of the 2012 U.S. Open final for Murray's only Grand Slam title.
Earlier this year, Djokovic defeated Murray in four sets to win the Australian Open. This will be the third time in the last four Grand Slam finals that they will play for the title.
The similarities extend to their statistics here. Murray has served 80 aces, to 76 by Djokovic. Murray's first-serve percentage is 65%, Djokovic's 66%. Each has won 95 service games. Djokovic has dropped 80 games; Murray has lost 82. Djokovic has spent 14 hours 26 minutes on the court in six matches, to 14:51 for Murray.
Djokovic didn't lose a set until his 4-hour 43-minute victory — a Wimbledon semifinal record — Friday in five sets over Juan Martin del Potro. Murray lost two sets to Fernando Verdasco in the quarterfinals and one to Jerzy Janowicz in the semifinals.
"He's extremely fit physically, and that's why he's able to fight until the last point of every match," Murray said. "He never really has any letdowns physically, which he used to when he was younger."
Djokovic spoke Saturday about their similarities and what might be decisive Sunday.
"We are quite good returners of serve, so I guess it's going to be quite a lot of pressure on the service," he said. "Also, the service games are quite crucial, to be able to hold them and try to get as many free points on the first serve as possible, which is not that easy…
"This surface more favors servers," Djokovic said. "Andy was serving really well throughout the whole tournament, as I did also. So it's going to be a combination of things."
One factor is certain: Murray will be the overwhelming fan favorite.
"He's a local hero. He has a big chance to win Wimbledon after a long time for this nation. People will be supporting him," Djokovic said. "But it's not the first time that I've been in similar situations when I played against local players. I know what I need to do….
"I'm going to play against one of the best tennis players in the world in the last five years. I'm ready for it."