Novak Djokovic got back in the win column for the first time in six months and he did it by beating main rival Andy Murray 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in the final of the Doha.
Djokovic, who won the Doha title last year, had to save five match points in a comeback win Friday to beat Fernando Verdasco in the semifinals.
But in the final, Djokovic showed no early signs of sloppiness playing some of the best tennis he’s put together in many months. Djokovic shook off an early bloody finger and a tumble when he hit his head on the hardcourt, to secure the first set and a second set lead convincingly.
The Serb looked well on his way to victory serving for the match in the second at 5-4, but let slip three match points opportunities.
Murray broke back and then held after a frustrated Djokovic, who already had received a ball abuse warning, smashed his racquet in frustration giving Murray the game. Still upset, Djokovic was promply broken again, this time for the set.
It was all even but momentum had clearly swung Murray’s way.
Djokovic, who was 19-0 against Murray when winning the first set, tightened his grip in the third, earning a break to go up 4-3 and this time was able to close it out for his 67th career title in 2 hours, 54 minutes.
“Best scenario I could ask for in the beginning of the season,” Djokovic said. “Playing all five matches in this tournament and then three hours against the No. 1 of the world, biggest rival, and winning in a thrilling marathon match.
“He’s such a great defender and he is fighting so much and always gets the ball back,” he added. “It was really, really thrilling performance from both of us. Just a great way to start the year.”
Djokovic not only used his penetrating groundstrokes, but an improved overhead and lots of net play, winning 24 of 35 at the net.
“If he’s not the best defender in the game of all-time then he’s right at the top 2, 3,” explained Djokovic. “When you play somebody who always gets an extra ball back, you know, it’s a game of cat and mouse in a way.
“You have to construct the point well and find the right time to approach, but you need to come in,” he said. “He was also coming into the net. Maybe less than I did, but I know that with aggressive style but kind of controlled aggressive style of play is the way to win.
“That’s why I was at the net.”
The loss for Murray snaps his 28 match win streak and five tournament title streak. He has still made the finals of 13 of his last 14 events, missing only the US Open.
“Obviously disappointed not to win tonight, but I played pretty good the last couple of the matches,” Murray said. “I think physically it was a good test to start the year, and I did good there. My body feels all right just now, so that’s positive.”
Murray finished a sparlking 17 of 18 at the net, but was just 2/7 on break chances and won just 47% on second serves.
“I did have a few chances,” Murray lamented. “I had a break point at 3-2; in the last game I had Love-30 on Novak’s serve and played a couple loose shots.
“I think I had the first break point in the first set as well; didn’t get it. He had one and took it. That was the difference this evening.”
Djokovic’s title also keeps him on pace to regain No. 1 in Australia should he win the title and Murray fail to make the last four.
He also improves to 25-11 against his rival Murray in their first ever meeting at an ATP 250 event. And the win avenges a loss in the London ATP Finals which game Murray the year-end No. 1 ranking.
“Every match we play is a huge challenge,” Djokovic said. “You have to accept and expect a great battle. Whether it’s a 250 or 1000 event or Grand Slam final, doesn’t change much, to be honest.
“You saw tonight how much we both wanted to win. Playing against your biggest rival always adds a little bit more flavor to the game and to the match.”
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