Murray scraps but fails to stop Djokovic's run

Novak Djokovic's unbeaten record in 2011 is still intact but the 23-year-old Serb was taken to the edge of the precipice by Andy Murray in a gripping semi-final of the Rome Masters here last night. Murray served for the match and came within two points of victory on four occasions before Djokovic fought back to win 6-1 3-6 7-6 after a contest of the highest quality that lasted more than three hours.

In today's final the world No 2 will face the man he has been relentlessly chasing down at the top of the world rankings. Rafael Nadal, who beat Richard Gasquet 7-5 6-1 in the other semi-final, has been fighting a virus this week, but after Djokovic's exertions the Spaniard should fancy his chances of winning the title here for the sixth time in seven years and ending his rival's 38-match winning run, which began at the end of last year.

There have been times in the last four months when you wondered whether Murray's crushing defeat by Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open would have a long-term effect on his self-belief. The world No 4 will have good reason to feel much better about himself after last night.

If there was disappointment at losing in a Masters semi-final for the second time in five weeks – Murray was beaten by Nadal in Monte Carlo after another three-hour marathon – the Scot will take heart from the best clay-court season of his career as he heads for the French Open, which begins next weekend. "I can win the French if I play my best," he said. "This will definitely give me confidence going into it."

Some of the tennis was sensational. Both men hit with enormous power and precision from the baseline, covering every inch of the court with their outstanding athleticism. There were some wonderful rallies of 30 shots or more.

The evening conditions were perfect – cool with almost no wind after a day of glorious sunshine – and Djokovic responded with a perfect opening game, holding serve with an ace followed by three successive winners. Murray clung on in the first three games, which lasted 24 minutes, but won only four points in the next four as Djokovic took the first set with plenty to spare.

Murray, who celebrates his 24th birthday today, had failed to hold serve in the first set – he won only 50 per cent of the points when his first serve found the court and none on second – but his improvement in the second set was instant. He broke in the sixth game and served out for the set, levelling the match with a majestic backhand cross-court winner.

Both men dropped serve twice in the decider before Murray broke to lead 5-4. Luck was not on his side when he served for the match – he broke a string on one point and lost another to a lucky net cord – but two double faults also contributed to his downfall.

Djokovic, who had dropped only 11 games in his three previous matches, looked shattered from the start of the third set, but dug into his seemingly bottomless reserves to win the tie-break 7-2, setting up match point with a superb winning lob and converting it with a well-judged drop shot.

"I had chances to win and I thought I should have done," Murray said. "It was probably partly because I haven't been in that position too many times this year. I've played very few matches. I think I'm one of the best closers in tennis. I've very rarely lost matches, especially against the best players, when I'm serving for it."

Of Djokovic's winning streak, he said: "It's obviously a great run. I'm just disappointed in myself. I should have ended it tonight and I didn't. I had my chances. It's going to be tough for anyone to match a run like that, but I think it will be very tough for him to keep it going tomorrow."

Maria Sharapova will play Australia's Sam Stosur in the women's final. Sharapova beat Caroline Wozniacki, the world No 1, 7-5 6-3. Stosur, runner-up at last year's French Open, reached her first final of this year by beating Li Na 7-6 6-0.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam