By Steve Gorten
KEY BISCAYNE – Miami is home for Andy Murray, the place where he lives two to four months every year and trains on the courts at Crandon Park Tennis Center.
But on a typically hot and humid afternoon in South Florida, Murray faded physically in the final set while Novak Djokovic seemed to grow more and more energized.
Djokovic, the world’s top-ranked player, claimed his fifth Miami Open championship Sunday with a 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-0 win on stadium court against two-time winner and third-seeded Murray.
In doing so, Djokovic became the first player to win at Indian Wells and Miami in the same year on three separate occasions.
Despite the loss, Murray will move up to No. 3 in the Emirates ATP rankings, one spot below his career-high ranking of No. 2, achieved in August 2009.
“The beginning of the third [set] was important,” Djokovic said. “The first two games were pretty long. I managed to win those. After that, I felt like he was getting tired. That’s where the momentum was on my side. Generally, it was just a physical battle between the two of us that play similar games.”
Djokovic and Murray have combined to win seven of the past nine Miami Open men’s titles, so their appearance in Sunday’s final was predictable. So was the outcome. Djokovic came in having won their past six matchups, and their past nine on hard courts, winning 17 of 25 encounters all-time.
Murray, now 10-23 against reigning world No. 1’s, and 3-10 against Djokovic when the 27-year-old Serbian has sat atop the rankings, has lost his past 12 matches against fellow members of the Big Four – Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
After Murray broke Djokovic’s serve to capture the second set Sunday, Djokovic broke Murray’s to start the third set. In the third game of the set, Murray fought off five break points before Djokovic finally broke on his sixth chance.
“I made a lot of mistakes in the third set because I wasn’t getting my legs in the right position to hit the shot,” Murray said. “I struggled physically. I played very well for a couple of sets. Maybe I could have done a little bit better in the tiebreak in the first set.”
Of wearing down in the final set of the two-hour, 46-minute match, Murray, who said he usually spends three and a half weeks of December in Miami and returns after Wimbledon and sometimes the Australian Open, insisted he has trained the best he can.
“I can try to do more, but I do push myself hard,” Murray said. “I know Novak is a very fit guy, and sometimes in these conditions [he] has struggled a little bit in the humidity. He handled it extremely well today and deserved to win the match because of that.”
Still, Murray apologized to the fans after the match for not being more competitive in the third set, which lasted just 42 minutes. Djokovic and Murray played a four-set match in the final of this year’s Australian Open. At Indian Wells last month, Djokovic won 6-2, 6-3.
“There were a lot more positives than the match at Indian Wells,” Murray said. “I feel like I did many things better. I made the match a lot harder than him.”
“I feel like in the couple of matches we’ve played this year, I’ve been able to hang with him,” Murray added. “But just not quite for long enough, unfortunately.”
“It was very tough, brutal conditions for both of us,” Djokovic said. “The first set was really up and down for both of us, and we tried to stay mentally tough and hang in there, battle and wear down the other player physically.”
“There were a lot of exchanges, a lot of long rallies. I was expecting that coming into the match, but it’s one thing to expect it and another to really go through it on the court,” Djokovic continued.
Novak Djokovic has now won the Miami Open on five separate occasions, becoming the first player to win Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back for three consecutive years.