Andy Murray delivered himself a pretty big 29th birthday gift on Sunday, beating Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 6-3, to win his first Rome title.
The elephant in the room, of course, is that Murray had massive advantages in this final. Not only did Djokovic play a late night semifinal, a grueling three-hour win over Kei Nishikori, but the draw was severely lopsided as well. Djokovic had to play Rafael Nadal (either the second or third best player this year) and Nishikori (fourth best thus far in 2016) just to get to the final, while Murray’s only bit of resistance was David Goffin.
With that said, Murray did what a great player should do and seized the opportunity (regardless, one of the best things about tennis is that bad draws often even out over the season, unlike in single-championship sports). He broke Djokovic in the early stages of each set and pulled out some clutch serving to avenge his loss to the World No. 1 in last week’s Madrid final, capped with this fantastic match point (though “best match point ever” is a bit extreme):
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) May 15, 2016
In contrast to their usual bouts, it was Murray coming up big under pressure while Djokovic, whose movement did not seem compromised by Saturday’s self-inflicted foot gash, was irritable and blaming external factors. In the first set, Djokovic drew a code violation for spiking his racket, which flew into the crowd, and he grew progressively more belligerent towards chair umpire Damian Steiner, who ignored the Serb’s calls to stop for rain because of slippery conditions. Both during and following the match, Djokovic sarcastically congratulated Steiner for demonstrating his authority.
For Murray, it’s his first title of the season, his 12th Masters title (passing Pete Sampras for fifth all-time) and the 6th different Masters 1000 he has won (missing Indian Wells, Monte-Carlo and Paris-Bercy):
Murray Masters updated:
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) May 15, 2016
The win snaps multiple streaks: Murray becomes the first Rome champion other than Nadal (seven titles) or Djokovic (four titles) since Carlos Moya in 2004. Murray had lost four matches in a row (and 12 out of 13) to Djokovic and was 0-4 lifetime on clay against him. Djokovic loses his streaks of 10 straight finals won and 17 matches won against top-10 players. Djokovic still leads the head-to-head 23-10.
It is fair to assume I am cramping the Italian Open champion's style.
How's that for an eye roll? pic.twitter.com/3sGCUGHvXi
— judy murray (@JudyMurray) May 15, 2016
The road to Roland Garros ends with each of the three main contenders claiming a Masters 1000: Nadal in Monte-Carlo, Djokovic in Madrid and Murray in Rome. As for their chances in Paris, much depends on the all-important draw, which will be held Friday, with the main point of interest being whose quarter Nadal lands in should Roger Federer not pull out with his back injury . Looking even further than the French Open, Murray is now all but assured to be the second seed over Federer at Wimbledon, which is the most important major of the year for both players.
Last but not least, the men’s doubles saw Bob and Mike Bryan also claim their first Masters 1000 of the season. They managed to turn around from playing an after-midnight semifinal to beat Team PopSock, Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock, 2-6, 6-3, [10-8]. It’s their first Masters shield in over a year and their 112th title together overall.