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.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution