Thirteen minutes, seven break points, a second match point saved – Andy Murray could not have done any more in that final game to hang on to his Mutua Madrid Open title. And then he put a forehand in the net, Djokovic looked rather smug and it was back to business as usual.
Murray was beaten, yet again, by Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. It was as he said in the trophy presentation ceremony, getting to be something of a habit. He had fought hard, he had been aggressive, he had been strong – and still he ended up on the losing side.
“I think I obviously fought hard today. I’m disappointed because from like two games, like 2-all to 4-2, 5-2, I was making him work hard in the second set and then beginning of the third and then at the end of the third set.
“Then there was a period there – if you watch it back – the game I got broken, I made three unforced errors in that game. That was disappointing. Then obviously the last game I don’t know how many break point chances I had, but must have been six or seven.
“Both of us were pretty clinical on the break points up until the last game for me. That’s why he’s No 1 just now. He fought very hard in that game and served well when he was a bit nervous. At the end he came up with some big serves and got himself some free points and did well.”
So, more than two hours of hard graft came down to a couple of points here and there – Djokovic won them and Murray didn’t. ‘Twas ever thus.
The quicker conditions at altitude in the Spanish capital were tempered somewhat by the temperature – a distinctly chilly 11C – and the fact that it had been raining all day. Despite the fact that more showers were forecast for later in the evening, the organisers opted to start the match with the roof open. Murray, sensible man that he is, was wearing a vest to fend off the cold. Not that it helped much.
Once upon a time, there was barely a fag paper between Murray and his old foe. They chased each other around the globe, playing the same style of game and taking their turn to dent the other’s pride. But then Murray beat Djokovic to win Wimbledon and took the end of that season off to have back surgery. At the same time, Djokovic hired Boris Becker as his coach, reinvented himself as the all-conquering champion and went on to beat the Scot in 11 of 12 matches. What had once been the narrowest of gaps between them was now a gulf.
Murray did what he could to bridge that gap after the most unpromising of starts. As Djokovic roared off the starting blocks at full throttle, Murray was flapping and faffing and failing to find the court with his shots, much less finding a way to hurt the Serb.
But all was far from lost. Murray started to serve better – he ended up with ten aces – and he started to attack Djokovic’s serve with some thumping returns. Djokovic was expecting an improvement from the Scot but he was not quite prepared for the all-out attack that was coming his way. Dropping his serve on a double fault, he could only watch as Murray ran off with the second set, and even in the third set when the world No 1 took a 2-0 lead, he could not stop Murray coming back at him.
Murray broke back; Djokovic broke again. And then they set to in the final game as Djokovic served for the title. For 13 minutes, Murray tried everything and anything to break Djokovic’s serve. He had seven break points but could not convert any of them. And then he hit that last forehand into the net and the torment was over.
He was disappointed – that was obvious – and he has lost his No 2 ranking for the coming week at least. But he now goes to Rome for the Italian Open and his final preparations for the French Open at the end of the month.
He has plenty to be happy about, not least the way he fought in the final and the way he played to get there. The clay court season has a long way to go yet and Murray intends to be a big part of it.
“I think the week as a whole and the clay season so far has been positive for me,” he said. “I just need to try to find the way for whole weeks not sort of not dropping intensity at certain moments.
“Today I needed to keep my sort of intensity very high and concentration on every point, and made a few mistakes in the middle of the third. The best players capitalise on that. You get away with it against players that aren’t as good.
“It’s been positive from where I was a few weeks ago going into Monte-Carlo. I’ve played some really good stuff. See what happens the next few weeks.”