Andy Murray secured only his second victory over Novak Djokovic since the 2013 Wimbledon Final earlier today with a 6-3 6-3 win that gave him his first ATP Masters title of the year and set him up hugely impressively for Roland Garros, the second Slam of the year, which is just one week away.
Great to see @andy_murray on top form, winning the Italian Open on his birthday.
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) May 15, 2016
— TennisTV (@TennisTV) May 15, 2016
The Brit had last beaten Djokovic at the Canada Masters final on the hard courts in late 2015; aside from that, Djokovic had won the rest (twelve) of their previous meetings since that Wimbledon final, including defeating the Brit in last week’s Madrid Masters final in three sets.
But this week, Murray was not to be denied, and was aided somewhat by a largely easy passage through to the final, in contrast to Djokovic’s turbulent route to the final. Murray played just one seeded player – David Goffin – and didn’t drop a single set in the tournament, including Saturday’s 6-2 6-1 victory over lucky loser and huge surprise package Lucas Pouille, which would have been a far easier semi-final than the Brit would have anticipated. By contrast, Djokovic won 7-5 7-5 against veteran Stephane Robert in the first round, was bagelled by Thomas Bellucci of Brazil in the second round before fighting back to win, scraped past Nadal in the quarter-final before against coming back from a set down to defeat Kei Nishikori of Japan in yesterday’s semi-final.
So perhaps a Murray victory was on the cards. That said, a win over Novak Djokovic should never be taken for granted, as the Serb generally always finds a way to win, no matter how tricky his passage to the final has been. This time around, though, on his 29th birthday, the Brit made no mistake.
Both players were playing some scintillating tennis, but it was Djokovic who was the first to crack, under pressure from some absolute gigantic Murray forehands in the fourth game of the opening set. Murray gained a 0-30 advantage on the Djokovic serve by hammering a couple of forehands out of the Serbian’s reach, and secured the break for a 3-1 lead with some similarly accurate and powerful forehand play.
The Brit found himself slightly under pressure serving at 4-2 and 30-30, but a wonderful backhand down the line wrong-footed the Serb and breathing space was restored, with Murray eventually holding his nerve to see out the first set 6-3 with a battering ram of a forehand followed by a deft drop-shot which outfoxed the Serbian.
The Brit immediately came under pressure early in the second set, saving break points in the second game before again being taken to deuce in the fourth to absorb Djokovic’s quick response to dropping the opening set, and gradually the match once again turned in the Scot’s favour, with Djokovic showing his frustration for the first time after netting a forehand in the fourth game, allowing Murray to level at 2 games all.
It was in the next game that Murray pounced, a deft drop shot pushing him towards a single break point, which was expertly taken thanks to a fortuitous net cord and a volley which was hammered away out of the Serbian’s reach once again. Serving brilliantly, the Scot never looked like relinquishing the break of serve, and held relentlessly with imperious quality and a smorgasbord of drop shots.
Serving at 3-5, Djokovic once again came under pressure on serve, and what followed what potentially the greatest match point in the history of tennis: always in control of the rally, Djokovic pushed and pushed Murray back as he encroached upon the net, and a backhand cross court from the net looked unplayable until Murray used all of his pace and arm length to reach the ball and juggernaut a backhand down the line into the empty court. A mighty fist pump ensued.
The result may not see Andy Murray favourite for the French Open just yet – he’s currently third at around 10-1 behind Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, but it will see Murray regain his position as World Number Two from the injury-hit Roger Federer and give the Brit huge belief that he may well have his best chance of winning the French Open in years.