In what was less a tennis match and more a survival weekend, Andy Murray was today outlasted by Novak Djokovic in the final of the Shanghai Rolex Masters. Despite holding five championship points, Murray went down 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 to fall for the first time in the Qizhong Arena.
The space between Djokovic and Murray has always been defined by tight margins. A week at birth. One spot in the rankings. One result in the head-to-head record. But this match narrowed the gap to just one significant point.
In a one-hour, 14-minute first set, Murray continued the trend established in the US Open final. He was under the skin of the Serb like ringworm. A set of more breaks than holds saw Djokovic lose a vital service game at 5-5, followed swiftly by his mind, as he reduced his racket to splintered matchwood.
Djokovic’s volcanic reaction painted a vivid mental picture. The world number two has never lost this year when he’s sealed the first set, which has come to resemble a first-strike missile attack.Read more (287 words)
Murray duly served out an affair that saw Djokovic successful in just 33% of his second-serve points – a statistic that illustrates the glee with which Murray has been seizing on his rivals’ weaker deliveries of late.
The second set defined the mental battle between the two friends just as surely as if they’d been playing chess with a gun against their temples. As with much of their careers, Djokovic was building bricks and mortar, but Murray was doing a nice line in interior décor, too.
It was this outstanding creative input, coupled with the Scot’s blistering offensive forehand, that sealed the break in the vital seventh. Then, at 5-4, with Murray serving at 30-0, an exhausting rally saw the Serb flick a desperate tweener back into court and score with a near-perfect drop shot.
Although Murray made it to championship point, a short ball enabled the Serb to sweep a forehand for a clean winner. The match pummelled its way into a tiebreak, Murray missed four more championship points and, as the Serb closed out a titanic tiebreak, it was Murray’s turn to mash his racket.
A weary-looking deciding set explored the limits of mental endurance rather than the outer edges of the respective talents of the two men, and Djokovic broke both Murray’s serve and spirit at 3-3. At one point using his racket as a prop, the Scot finally capitulated on his serve at 3-5 as Djokovic bellowed into the Shanghai night air.
For much of the match, the pair had been like two men sharing the same parachute. But this encounter ultimately defined not only the distance between the two friends – one single trick shot – but surely also the changing shape of men’s tennis.