Madrid Masters 2016: Djokovic beats Murray to break more new ground with Masters No29

Novak Djokovic beats Andy Murray in three sets to win the Madrid Masters title

There is no denying that there was a lot at stake, a lot up for grabs, between the two men born within a week of each other and now ranked No1 and No2 in the world: Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

They may have met many times on the junior tour, but their first match on the main pro tour was as teenagers 10 years ago—or rather less than a full 10 years ago, because back in 2006, the Mutua Madrid Open was played in the autumn indoors and on hard courts.

Djokovic won that first match which, like many of their 30 or so since, pushed each other to the limit, and to the full three sets.

They had not met in Madrid since—until now—but a lot of water has since passed under the bridge, not least that Djokovic is heading towards his 200th week as world No1 along with his 29th birthday this month.

It so happens that he was also targeting his 64th title, and to give some context, that would equal the tally of both Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras, and Djokovic is clearly far from done yet.

For the Serb tops the rankings by twice as many points as Murray and, coming into the clay season with back-to-back titles in Miami and Wells, he topped Rafael Nadal in the Masters league table too.

As defending champion in Monte-Carlo, he suffered a rare loss in his opening match, though it was almost certainly a sign of mental and physical fatigue after an extraordinary 18-month run of 15 titles and 110 wins to seven losses.

So he arrived in Madrid on a 32-2 run for the year, but more significantly for the Madrid title bout, with a 22-9 advantage over Murray. Indeed since the Briton’s title run at Wimbledon in 2013, Murray had grabbed just one win in 12 matches, and was yet to win against the Serb on clay.

Yet Murray seemed to be finding a real streak of clay form. He won his first two titles on the red stuff last year, including Madrid, arrived in Spain on the back of a semi run in Monte-Carlo, and had not dropped a set against Tomas Berdych and Nadal this week. His game looked aggressive and determined, and with the French Open just around the corner, Murray had his eyes set on keeping the No2 ranking—which he could retain with the title.

Murray, though, was unable to produce the same tennis in the first set, as Djokovic played almost flawlessly to break immediately—four unforced errors to 11 winners. He clipped Murray’s wings to such an extent that the Briton made only three winners in the 6-2 set, all of them aces. And that extended Djokovic’s remarkable dominance over top-10 rivals to a tally of 33 sets out of the last 34.

But Murray remembered what had got him to this final: big serving, aggression from the ground, disguise on the drop-shot, and his ability to turn great defence into attack. Djokovic only needed to make a few wayward shots and Murray was after him. The pressure told on the Serb who double faulted on break point in the fourth game, and Murray levelled the match, 6-3, in a little more than an hour.

It would all come down to the decider, which would last almost an hour. Djokovic broke in the second game after a 23-shot rally, and seemed in control early in the second game after sealing another probing rally. But two double faults later, and Murray had the break back, acing to hold for 2-2.

Djokovic soon regained his composure, and also held to love, and quickly broke Murray again courtesy of a backhand winner down the line. To add a touch more spice the cake, Djokovic was then given a time warning, though Murray stepped in to say it was his fault. Yet the Serb, as calm as you like, held for 5-2.

Murray would create still more tension by double faulting to bring up match point for Djokovic, but he served superbly to hold and promptly earned three break-back points. Djokovic saved them all, but Murray had four more bites of the cherry in a pulsating 13-minute game. Djokovic hung tough, though, pressing to the very boundaries of the court and he finally got his reward with one last netted ball from Murray, 6-4.

Murray will find himself—though perhaps only for the duration of the Rome Masters which is getting under way this week—back at No3 come tomorrow, but yet again, this story is all about Djokovic.

Not only has the super Serb equalled the mighty Borg and Sampras in career titles, he has topped Nadal again in Masters titles with his 29th—that’s five of the past six Masters and 10 of the past 14—and has increased the ranking gap between himself and the rest into the bargain.

And all that before he turns 29.

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