Andy Murray established himself as one of the favourites to win the US Open last night when he became only the second player this year to beat Novak Djokovic. Murray won the Cincinnati Masters after Djokovic, his opponent in the final, retired when trailing 3-0 in the second set, having lost the first set 6-4.
Djokovic, whose only previous defeat this year was against Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the French Open, had not looked at his best physically throughout the tournament and seemed exhausted by the time he threw in the towel. Troubled by a problem with his right shoulder which hampered his serve, the world No 1 conceded the match after being broken for the fourth time.
It was Murray's second title of the year following his victory in the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club, the 18th of his career and his seventh in the Masters Series. The world No 4, who received a winner's cheque for $496,000 (£301,000), won his first Masters Series title on the same court against the same opponent three years ago, after which he went on to make his first appearance in the final of a Grand Slam event at the US Open the following month.
The fast court and gruelling heat and humidity make Cincinnati the ideal preparation for the US Open, which begins next Monday, and Murray should feel encouraged both by his own form and by his main rivals' problems. Djokovic needs to recover quickly if he is to win his third Grand Slam title of the year, Rafael Nadal has looked badly out of sorts as he prepares to defend his New York crown, while Federer has not won a Grand Slam title for more than 18 months and was blasted off court by Tomas Berdych last week.
Although the US Open is played on Murray's favourite surface, he has disappointed at the year's final Grand Slam event in each of his last two appearances. On both occasions he felt he had peaked too early in the summer, having won the first Masters Series tournament of the North American hard-court season in Canada. This year, Murray lost first time out in Montreal but found some of his best form in his last tournament before the US Open.
"This court is very similar to the one in New York," Murray said after his victory last night. "The courts in Canada are different. It's good to know that I'm playing well here in similar conditions. I hope I'm going to have a good run."
Djokovic had won 57 of his previous 58 matches this year but was in difficulty from the start. Murray, who had also struggled physically during his semi-final victory over Mardy Fish on Saturday, was quickly into his stride and broke serve in the opening game.
Although Djokovic levelled at 3-3 Murray broke back immediately and took the first set after 55 minutes. At the changeover Djokovic sent for the doctor and trainer and had lengthy treatment on his shoulder, but it was to no avail.
"I thought the standard towards the end of the first set was very good," Murray said. "There were a lot of long rallies. He started off a little bit slowly and made quite a few mistakes early on. It was a shame the way it ended, but it's been perfect preparation for the US Open."
Murray broke in 23 of his opponents' 44 service games in his five matches in Cincinnati but feels he has work to do on his own serve. "I got broken quite a few times this week," he said. "I served better as the week went on, but [on Saturday] against Mardy I was up three times in the second set. I need to get better at closing out the sets and serving better. Today I was up a break in the first set too. And I need to do a bit of work physically."
Maria Sharapova beat Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 to win the women’s final last night. There were 16 breaks of serve in a topsy-turvy match but Sharapova came through to win her second title of the season.