Roger Federer has not won a Grand Slam tournament for more than two years, but there is plenty of life in the old dog yet. Andy Murray went into yesterday's final here at the Dubai Duty Free Championships with high hopes of winning his sixth tournament in his last 10 appearances, but instead it was the 30-year-old Swiss who claimed the 72nd title of his career, winning 7-5 6-4.
A boisterous 5,000-capacity crowd included Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai, but when it comes to tennis in this part of the world it is Federer who is king. This was his fifth title here on a court which is one of the quickest on the circuit and on which he clearly feels as happy as a sandboy in the desert.
While Murray was disappointed not to build on his semi-final victory over Novak Djokovic, he had good reason to feel encouraged by his week's work. He had never previously gone beyond the quarter-finals and was particularly pleased with the way he had adapted to the testing conditions. "Overall it was a good week," Murray said before heading for the airport and a flight to the United States, where he will play in the Indian Wells Masters, which begins this week. "It was perfect preparation for the stretch over in America. I got through some very tough matches against top players."
He added: "This is a very important period for me coming up because I struggled there the last couple of years. It's a good chance for me to get some matches and hopefully play well there, because the surface should suit me."
While Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are some way clear at the top of the world rankings, it is Federer and Murray who are the form men in terms of matches and tournaments won. Federer, with five titles to show from his last seven tournaments, has won 33 of his last 35 matches and Murray 31 of his last 35.
Murray made a fine start, winning his first five service games with something to spare. He served so well in the early stages that Federer failed to put a return in court on 10 of the first 29 points on Murray's serve. The Swiss, in contrast, was frequently tested. When Murray forced two break points in the sixth game – neither of which he converted as he perhaps tried too hard to force the pace – they were the first against Federer's serve since the second set of his opening match here.
At 5-5, however, a combination of a dip in Murray's own serving and some ill fortune saw Federer make the only break of the first set. Distracted by a cameraman, Murray hit a double fault on the opening point and went 0-40 down after Federer took advantage of a mis-hit. Murray saved four break points, but on the fifth another mis-hit return helped Federer to make his breakthrough.
Having served out for the set, Federer went on the attack. He hit his forehand with ever-increasing power and regularly used chip-and-charge tactics as Murray's serving level dropped under the pressure.
When Federer broke in the third game of the second set it seemed the end might be swift, but Murray responded in fine fashion to break back to 3-3, winning the last two points thanks to two superb lobs. It was the first time Federer had been broken in 57 service games, dating back to last month's semi-final in Rotterdam. Murray saved one break point to take a 4-3 lead, but two games later he cracked, putting a backhand into the net as he went for a big shot down the line at 15-40. The Scot still pushed Federer hard in the final game, saving the first match point with some bold attacking play, but on the second the Swiss drilled a classic forehand winner into the corner.
"I think he played better than me in the second set," said Murray. "I made a few too many mistakes in the second and he was playing a lot more aggressively than in the first."
Federer thought the key was the way he had played the big points. "I used the surface to my advantage," he said. "Maybe Andy didn't serve his very best tonight, but maybe that comes through my good returning."
Murray's last 10 tournaments
Cincinnati Masters Won (beat Djokovic in final).
US Open Semi-finals (lost to Nadal).
Bangkok Won (beat Young in final).
Tokyo Won (beat Nadal in final).
Shanghai Masters Won (beat Ferrer in final).
Paris Masters Quarter-finals (lost to Berdych).
World Tour Finals Withdrew injured after opening defeat to Ferrer.
Brisbane Won (beat Dolgopolov in final).
Australian Open Semi-finals (lost to Djokovic).
Dubai Runner-up (lost to Federer in final).