Qatar Open: Djokovic Defeats Murray To End The No 1's 28-Match Winning Streak

Andy Murray’s sequence of 28 consecutive victories was ended by Novak Djokovic in the most heartbreaking of circumstances on Saturday night, writes Simon Briggs

Playing the Doha final, Murray fought back from three match points in the second set to take the match into a decider. In the end, though, his old nemesis proved too strong. 

The result will reshape expectations going into the Australian Open, which starts a week on Monday. Murray seemed to have broken Djokovic’s psychological hold over him when he won their most recent meeting in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals in November. But Djokovic - who survived five match points against Fernando Verdasco in Friday’s semi-final - was hugely impressive on Saturday. In a flashback to the world order that has applied for most of the last five years, he outhit Murray from the back of the court as he closed out a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 win in 2hr 54min.

“Definitely one of the best ways to start a year,” said Djokovic. “When Andy turned it around I thought it ‘I hope this is not payback time’ [for the Verdasco comeback]. All the way to the last shot, you never know with Andy. It’s no strange occurrence for both of us to play three sets for three hours. It’s a very physical battle. We’re both going to need a bit of time to recover and get ready for Melbourne.”

The match sparked some debate on social media over Djokovic’s body language, which once again suggested he was physically struggling for much of the match. This has been a point of controversy since the 2015 Australian Open final, after which Murray said that he had been distracted by Djokovic’s apparent attack of cramp early in the third set.

Any signs from Djokovic on Saturday were much more subtle, but his critics detected plenty of grimacing and some of the rubber-limbed stumbling after missed shots that we have seen before. These are simply Djokovic tropes, however, which hardly constitute gamesmanship on their own. Murray was conspicuously upbeat as he shook hands at the net with a broad smile and warm congratulations. On the upside, he does at least know that he will remain world No. 1 going into Australia.

“It was a high standard of tennis and a great way to start the year,” said Murray. “I’ve had a fantastic week here and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

The early stages were encouraging for Murray, who held a break point in the third game but failed to return a strong first serve. But Djokovic was not to give him another chance for some time, maintaining an uncannily high first-serve percentage and winning 24 out of 37 baseline rallies in that opening set.

Britain's Andy Murray (L) congratulates Serbia's Novak Djokovic
The second set was a roller coaster. Djokovic made the running through the early stages and broke in peculiar circumstances in the seventh game.

Having fallen and hit his head while attempting a desperate retrieval shot, he then profited from Murray’s resulting loss of concentration as the world No1 tossed in a double-fault.

That made it 4-3, and moments later Djokovic found himself serving for the match at 5-4.
He had his chances, holding three match points during the game, but he could not quite find a way through Murray’s seamless defences.

There were also a couple of freebies thrown in: a double-fault at 30-30 and a disappointing missed slice. That was enough for Murray to pounce, striking his most telling shot of the match – a huge inside-out forehand winner – to claim his first break.

The winning streak may be over for Murray, but another sequence continues. As befitting his status as one of the greatest returners in history, he has not gone through a match without breaking serve since he lost to Roger Federer in Cincinnati in the summer of 2015, no fewer than 112 matches ago.

Having levelled the set at 5-5, Murray promptly broke again to level the match at one set apiece. An opening hold in the decider meant that he had reeled off five consecutive games, just when the situation had seemed most bleak. One of them was concluded by a point penalty against Djokovic, when he smashed his racket into the court. It was his second code-of-conduct offence, after he had banged a ball away in anger during the first set.

The third set hinged on Djokovic’s feisty defence in the sixth game, in which he faced another break point and repelled it with a classic combination: big first serve, strong forehand, winning overhead. Having scrambled to stay in touch for the previous half-hour, he now saw his chance, while Murray was demoralised by the near-miss and mislaid his first serve. A break to love ensued, setting Djokovic up for this morale-boosting victory.

“It means to me a lot,” said Djokovic, “because the last three months of 2016 I haven’t felt that confident on the court and I didn’t play so consistent. To start off the year with a win over the No1 in the world and the biggest rival, it’s a dream start, so I am hoping I can get the best out of it.”

The Telegraph

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