Murray battles back but cannot cool Djokovic's scorching serve

 

Andy Murray is the only player who has beaten Novak Djokovic twice since the Serb became world No 1 last summer but will have to wait for a chance of a third win.

 The two 24-year-olds contested a gruelling final of the Miami Masters last night in which Djokovic underlined his status as the game's best player with a 6-1, 7-6 victory.

It was a match in which neither player found their best form, but the consistency of Djokovic's serve, combined with the comparative ineffectiveness of Murray's, proved decisive. In two hours and 18 minutes Murray forced only one break point, which he failed to take in the fifth game, while Djokovic had eight, two of which he converted in the first set.

Murray appeared to pay the penalty for his lack of time on court in the last four weeks. Having fallen at the first hurdle in Indian Wells, he reached the Miami final despite having played only three matches at Crandon Park, two of his opponents having withdrawn through injury.

Djokovic, in contrast, reached the semi-finals in Indian Wells and has looked in exceptional form throughout the last 10 days. He defended his Miami title without dropping a set in his six matches. It was his third triumph at the tournament, which Murray won three years ago by beating the Serb in the final.

If there was disappointment at losing this time, Murray will nevertheless have good reason to be happy with his spring hard-court campaign. There has been no repeat of the alarming dip in his form that followed his defeats in the Australian Open finals of 2010 and 2011 and his runs to the finals in Dubai and Miami should put him in good heart for the challenges that lie ahead.

Murray's next appearance will be at Monte Carlo in a fortnight's time in the traditional curtain-raiser to the European outdoor season. Djokovic will be there too as he aims to build towards a winning climax to his clay-court campaign at the French Open. Victory at Roland Garros would see him become the first man to hold all four Grand Slam titles since Rod Laver in 1969.

Given that Murray lost the first set after Djokovic won five games in a row, the Scot's response in the second was admirable. The hot and humid conditions were tough for both men, but Murray often looked the stronger as the match developed into a series of lengthy rallies. Nevertheless, it was the Scot who repeatedly had to dig himself out of trouble on his serve, even if Djokovic did not punish his second serves quite as ruthlessly as he had in the first set.

Murray twice went within two points of levelling the match when Djokovic served at 5-6, but the Serb held firm and took charge of the tie-break after Murray serve a double-fault at 2-2. Djokovic eventually won it 7-4 to secure his 11th Masters Series title, which equals Pete Sampras' tally. In the all-time list only Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi have won more.

"It was definitely a great match to be part of," Djokovic said afterwards. "I thought I played well at the start and at the end. Andy was very close to winning the second set and the match could have gone in either direction."

Murray, who became the first player to beat Djokovic this year when he won their Dubai semi-final last month, paid credit to the world No 1, saying he had been the better player on the day and had been the best player all week.

"In the first set Novak served and returned very well," Murray said. "In the second set I was getting into more of his service games, but the conditions were really tough. There were a lot of long points towards the end of the second set. For a 6-1, 7-6 result it was a pretty long match."

Agnieszka Radwanska continued her fine start to the year by beating Maria Sharapova 7-5, 6-4 to win in Miami for the first time. It was the 23-year-old Pole's second title of the year following her success in Dubai and extended her remarkable record of losing to only one player in 2012, Victoria Azarenka having beaten her in Sydney, Melbourne, Doha and Indian Wells. Already at a career-high No 4 in the world rankings, Radwanska is now breathing down the neck of Petra Kvitova, the world No 3.

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