Miami Open 2015: Novak Djokovic outlasts Andy Murray for fifth Florida title
Novak Djokovic beats Andy Murray in three sets to win his fifth Miami Masters title
When it comes to Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and the Miami Masters, the numbers have really begun to pile up.
This year, the two men separated by just a week in age and, come Monday morning, just two places at the top of the rankings, were meeting for the fifth time in what each might regard as one of their most successful tournaments.
This 2015 final would be their third in Florida, in a rivalry now comprising 26 meetings. Between them, they had accounted for the last four titles at Crandon Park, and between them had totted up six titles from eight finals.
But just as in their overall rivalry, it was Djokovic who headed the numbers game with four titles to Murray’s two, with three wins from their four Miami meetings, with 17 wins to Murray’s eight since their first match nine years ago.
Yet in the early days of their rivalry, there was little between them. Up to the point when Murray won his first Grand Slam, beating Djokovic in the US Open final in 2012, they were almost square, 8-7 in the Serb’s favour. In the 10 matches since, however, Murray had won only once and that was his renowned Wimbledon victory of 2013.
Murray was, by then, already contending with back problems, and the two men would not play again until after Murray had undergone surgery.
Perhaps little wonder, then, that Murray had yet to work his way back to victory over this ultimate rival in the six attempts since, all of them packed into the last 12 months. But then few other players had beaten Djokovic either—two this year, with only eight losses since beating Murray in Miami a year ago—and he stood a full 4,000 points ahead of them all at the top of the rankings.
Murray, though had good reason to believe that this time he would break the run of defeats. In reaching his first final since this very tournament two years ago, he had risen to several strong challenges, and taken out No8 seed Tomas Berdych in straight sets in the semis.
He has made no secret of his fondness for the Crandon Park courts, where he practises during his training blocks, and he was producing increasingly attacking tennis to balance his formidable counter-punching. He saw that as the key to turning the tables on his illustrious opponent: “I know I need to play high-level tennis. He returns well so I need to get the balance right of being patient but dictating points when I get the opportunity.
“I’ll also be aggressive against the second serve, I’ll be inside the baseline attacking—that’s something I’ve done well this week and didn’t do at Indian Wells, so that’s something different.”
And Murray started as though he meant it, attacking the Djokovic serve in the very first game, and beaten only by two exceptional lobs. But a blistering return-of-serve forehand winner gave Murray a break point and that prompted Djokovic to come to the net, as both vied for control.
The Serb had to survive three deuces, as this game became a microcosm of the set. It displayed of every kind of offensive and defensive shot in the book—and set the tone for the next hour of gripping tennis.
Murray had, then, thrown down the gauntlet, all the more so with a love hold, and then break point again in the third game. This time, Murray made a searing cross-court forehand to set up a winner at the net for the break.
But it soon became clear that the ends of the court would play their own part in this see-sawing tussle. Murray now serving into the sun began with a double fault, made two more errors and was broken back.
Two holds, and some outstanding long, probing rallies, and Murray broke again, this time to love, but now back serving into the sun, he was broken back just as quickly: 4-4. Murray dug deep at 0-30, 5-6 down, but got the better of a remarkable 35-stroke rally with a cross-court backhand winner, and held. They would decide it in a tie-break.
Murray was no doubt only too aware that he had never before beaten Djokovic from a set down, but that is what he would have to do after a sequence of pressured errors saw the Serb race to 4-0, and take the set, 7-3.
There was nothing between them—one point in 83, two winners, two errors—but Djokovic had a vital lead. However Murray continued to find his best, not least in fighting off three break points after smashing two high balls into the net.
Djokovic had to save a break point in the next, and then they tested and teased, threw up lobs, fired aces, appealed to the crowd for their support after each gutsy hold. Finally, Murray who found the extra bit of magic—a forehand pass, a backhand return-of-serve winner—to break for the second set, 6-4.
The match was well over two hours old and the conditions were punishing, not just hot but humid. And despite his super-human training blocks in this very region, it was Murray who buckled first.
It told in his serving: He struggled to hit a first serve into play and would score only 13 points out of 32 deliveries. It told in his overheads, too—both misses and mis-directions cost him dearly as Djokovic continued to keep the ball in play with deep, flat hitting off and towards both wings.
It was relentless, and even at the net, Murray could not get the upper hand. After a quick break, Murray battled through a nine-minute third game but acquiesced on the sixth break point to go 0-3, and in the blink of an eye, Djokovic had raced to victory, 6-0, after 2hrs 46 minutes of compelling, albeit exhausting tennis.
Murray’s was a low-key acceptance speech that acknowledged his physical difficulties: “It’s obviously been a good start to the year, and big progress over where I was last year. I know I’m not there with Novak yet, but I feel I’m getting closer. I just need to keep working hard and hope it will come. Sorry I couldn’t make more of a fight in the third: I was trying, but my legs were tired. But Miami is a very special place for me and I always enjoy coming back.”
Djokovic said what everyone could see: “Another phenomenal year here in Miami. Great tournament. This is truly one of the better tournaments we have. It’s a beautiful city, special place for tennis.”
The world No1 will draw level with Rafael Nadal in weeks spent at the top of rankings tomorrow—141—and has moved within one Masters title of Roger Federer’s 23. But with this fifth crown in Miami, Djokovic has done something that no-one else has managed: the Indian Wells-Miami double three times.
There is some consolation for Murray in all this, aside from the quality of tennis he produced for most of this match. He will return to No3 tomorrow, and come Saturday, he will join the ranks of Federer and Djokovic in becoming husbands when he marries Kim Sears back home in Dunblane.
Now all eyes turn to the red stuff—and it will surely not be too long before these two remarkable athletes go toe-to-toe once again.