In a paralysing, pulverising encounter in the searing Florida heat, Andy Murray saved a match point with a groundshot to the very limits of the white lines to claim his second Miami Masters title.
After a meandering three hours of service breaks, missed chances and scintillating winners, the Scot edged David Ferrer 2-6 6-4 7-6 to wrest not only his ninth Masters title but also the world number two spot.
As the first set got under way, such a result looked about as likely as the diminutive Spaniard letting go of the dog-pull he seemingly has between his teeth as he grunts his way through baseline rallies measured to the inch. The Duracell Easter Bunny reeled off five straight games as Murray struggled to locate some semblance of timing.
Despite his 20 titles, Ferrer’s career has largely been built on vulturing lower-ranked players. The Spaniard has never won a title match against a top-five player and he faltered when Murray held for 5-1 and snapped off a smart volley and scorching forehand to make it 5-2.
However, the eighth game proved a sorry microcosm of the first set for Murray, who hit two double faults, netted a tame forehand and drove another beyond the baseline to surrender the opener.Read more (335 words)
The second set proved transitional for Murray. Caught between limited success when hitting vanilla-flavoured rally balls, yet constantly frustrated by poor timing when he tried to add some spice, Murray gradually felt his way into the match and secured a neat break at 1-1 with a forehand error from the Spaniard’s racket.
Murray kept the initiative until 4-3, but the 27-degree heat was taking its toll, with the Scot gasping for air in the Miami cauldron and generally looking like he’d rather be preparing his end-of-year tax return than facing a one-man energy source in a Masters final.
Somehow, the number two seed broke again at 4-4 and some huge serving and tactically astute groundshots secured the second set.
Six successive service breaks at the start of the decider indicated maximum exhaustion on the part of both players, who might have felt aggrieved at having to play their first match of the week in the midday sun, a result of TV schedules organised around a hectic basketball programme in the US.
With his fuel light not only on amber but also beginning to flash and beep, the Scot just did enough to manufacture a break at 4-4. But some attritional play from Ferrer levelled matters at 5-5.
At 5-6 down, Murray staggered to 40-15 but the gritty Spaniard pulled back to deuce and engineered a championship point. Murray drove recklessly deep to Ferrer’s forehand corner and the new world number four immediately challenged. In a rising crescendo of agitation, the crowd held its breath as Hawkeye confirmed that Murray’s drive had painted the very back edge of Ferrer’s baseline.
The near miss seemed to galvanise the Scot into action. Now his feet were moving, he was split-stepping with authority and pounding his shots. The Scot took matters into a deciding tiebreak and suddenly sprinted to victory, getting the best of a tricky net cord and then grinding his way to a 7-1 success and a position as the undisputed number two player on the planet.