By Jake Davies

  • Novak Djokovic [2] defeats Andy Murray [1] 6-3 5-7 6-4.
  • Djokovic defends his 2016 title with this victory
  • The Serbian sends a message heading into first major of the year
DOHA, QATAR – First blood in the first showdown of what is bound to be many this year between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic went to the defending champion as he came through in three sets to reclaim his title.

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Novak Djokovic [2] defeats Andy Murray [1] 6-3 5-7 6-4

Novak Djokovic sent a significant message to Murray and the rest of the Australian Open field as he returned to winning ways by beating the World No.1 Andy Murray in a spectacular three-hour epic in Doha.

This result is a reminder that despite Djokovic’s struggles over the second half of the 2016 season, he still is not far away from producing the same tennis that guided him to success at the Australian Open and Roland Garros last year.

The match was a fantastic spectacle with both players giving their all in their quest for the 2017 Doha title. Djokovic took the first set as he profited from some loose errors from the Murray forehand. The Serbian would then deliver a frightening blow with a forehand winner down the line to grab the set from the Briton.

The Serbian served for the match at 6-3, *5-4 and held three championship points, but Murray found a way to prolong the agony for his nemesis and eventually took the match into a third set by winning four games in a row. The contest was finely poised as Murray looked the most likely to take the title, but had never beaten the Serb after losing the first set in 19 of their previous encounters.

Murray still had his chances in the deciding set. The three-time Grand Slam champion held a slender advantage at 0-30 and 3-2* up, but Djokovic was the man that would prevail with his arms aloft as he successfully defended the Doha title and got his year off to a flying start.

There were a number of telling reasons as to why Djokovic came out on top today. Whenever Murray plays the very best players in the world you always have to focus on how well the Brit is defending his second serve. The reason why the second serve is so pivotal in these match ups is because the best players will expose any kind of limitation or weakness when given the opportunity – Djokovic is in that category.

Djokovic’s second serve held up much better than Murray’s, which allowed Djokovic to take the initiative in a lot of the rallies. The second serve of Murray’s is one area that has improved, but still stands out like a sore thumb in these crucial matches at the highest level of our sport.

Another reason why Djokovic claimed victory was the risks that he was willing to take and he was rewarded for it. Both players have tremendous movement from the baseline and chase down every ball with their admirable defensive play. Djokovic’s willingness to search for his backhand down the line rather than trading cross-court rallies actually enabled him to take time away from his opponent. When Djokovic is feeling good about his game he will deliver groundstrokes down the line with regularity and when he is in that sort of mood he’s virtually unplayable for the majority of the ATP tour.

Does the outcome of the Doha final affect the determined favourite for the Australian Open title? Djokovic has laid down a marker that he is still the man to beat as the six-time Australian Open champion. Ending the 28 match win streak of Murray is also an important moment for this rivalry in particular. The Doha final does not determine who wins the Australian Open, but it does influence the mental tussle between the two players. Remember in the higher echelons of the game the smallest of gains from both a physical and psychological standpoint can make a huge difference and now Djokovic has that mental edge with this win over Murray.

Despite the loss there are loads of reasons to be optimistic for Murray. I think if the match ended in straight sets to the Serbian then Murray’s outlook on his chances of beating Djokovic in Melbourne would be considerably different. The realisation that he pushed Djokovic to his physical limits will give him enormous confidence and I truly do expect the top two players on the planet to contest their fifth Australian Open final at the end of January.

 

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