By Mario Sarmento
It was billed as a battle of the titans, as the last two Sony Open Tennis tournament champions, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, faced off on Stadium Court in the last match of Wednesday’s day session. In the end, the second-seeded Djokovic produced just enough to beat the sixth-seeded Murray in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3, and advance to the semifinals, where he awaits the winner of Wednesday’s late match between No. 5 Roger Federer and No. 20 Kei Nishikori.
Fittingly, this match between perhaps the two best returners in the men’s game today was decided by who took advantage of his break chances. Wednesday, it was Djokovic who was able to convert on 3-6 chances against Murray, including two huge breaks that swung the momentum of the match. "I think I was calmer in the important moments, where he wasn't," Djokovic said. "He lost his composure, I think, and made unforced errors and allowed me to win."
In the first set, both players held serve for the first 11 games, with Djokovic taking a slim 6-5 lead and Murray serving. But Djokovic won a crucial point on Murray’s serve with a volley at the net that set the tone for the rest of the game, and he ended up winning the next three points to clinch the set. "It was an important point, but, you know, mentally obviously it distracted him more than it gave me an encouragement of some kind," he said.
It was a theme for the day, as Djokovic was consistently better at the net than Murray, converting 15-20 chances (75 percent), including an impressive 8-9 opportunities (89 percent) in the second set. In contrast, Murray was just 11-18 (61 percent) at the net for the match, and only 6-12 (50 percent) in the final set.
In the second set, Murray appeared to take control when he broke Djokovic on a backhand volley that put him ahead 3-2. But, undaunted, the world’s No. 2 player returned the favor in the very next game. After holding serve to make it 4-3, Djokovic again broke Murray in the following game to take a commanding 5-3 lead, making him 2-3 in break points in the set.
Djokovic then decided matters on serve with three forehand winners, including one down the line on match point to beat Murray for the third time in four meetings at Key Biscayne. The Serb was so good on serve that Murray only had two break points the entire match, and could only convert the one. And Djokovic is still alive in his bid to win a fourth Sony Open title, as he faces yet another possible classic matchup against Federer in the semifinals.
For his part, Murray was disappointed but still content with how he has been playing this week. “I’m not angry. My game is just about there. I had opportunities (on Novak’s serve), 30-all, and 0-30. I’m hitting the ball better. Being aggressive, taking the ball earlier. My game is not far from where I would like it to be. This is some of the best I’ve played since I’ve been back. “