Novak Djokovic successfully defended his title at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, defeating world number one Andy Murray, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, in a match of incredible quality. Both players look in great form ahead of the first grand slam of the year, where they will be top seeds and favorites to meet in the final for the third year in a row.
Both players began with some excellent ball striking and defensive play, but a lapse from Murray near the end of the opening set was enough for Djokovic to take the break and a one set lead. It looked all but over in the second as Djokovic was serving for the match but Murray battled back from the brink and saved three match points, coming back from 4-5 to 7-5 to force a decider. Neither player was giving their opponent much to work with in the opening few games of the decider until another nightmare service game from Murray handed Djokovic a late break. There was no repeat of the second set comeback from the Brit and Djokovic battled from 0-30 down to hold and defend his Doha title.
Defending champion in control
There were early signs of frustration for Djokovic as a couple of errors allowed Murray to work his way to deuce in the opening game. An error from Murray this time gave Djokovic a second game point but the Brit came out on top of a long rally to bring the pair back to deuce. A good serve took Djokovic through the tense game with a hold. The Serb then took the lead on return with an overhead winner but a return long leveled the pair up, and Murray came through the game with the hold. Djokovic had a brief timeout at 30-30 on his serve in the next game to deal with a cut on his thumb. Murray brought the pair to deuce, coming out on top of a rally of outstanding quality and then bringing up the first break point of the match with a perfect drop shot. Djokovic saved the break point with a big serve and showed off a great drop shot of his own to bring up game point, eventually coming through the game with the hold.
Murray came through an easy service game, the only point for Djokovic coming with a double fault that was quickly corrected with an ace as he leveled the pair at 2-2. The Serb fired a great forehand down the line winner on his way to securing the first love hold of the match to go back in front. Djokovic took the lead on return with a perfect lob but Murray replied with an ace to tie them up. The Serb fought his way through to deuce but the Brit pulled out some incredible defense to come out on top of a high-quality rally and stay on serve.
Djokovic edged ahead with another solid love hold, taking eleven straight points on serve. An excellent serving display from Murray got him off to a good start on serve but the Serb again pushed through to deuce. An error from Murray brought up a first break point for Djokovic and a shanked forehand from the Brit gave the Serb the break. The world number two sailed through another love hold, sealing the first set with a scorching forehand winner down the line to secure the first set 6-3.
Murray responded well to the loss of the first set, getting back on track with a much-needed easy hold of serve. The Brit then got his first point on the Djokovic serve since early in the first set in a grueling twenty-one shot rally but the Serb still held on to level the pair. Murray had his first love hold of the match to go ahead 2-1. The Serb's confidence was clear as he raced through a love hold of his own, giving Murray no opportunities to get a rhythm on the return.
There were positive signs from Murray as he came through a solid hold to edge back in front and then took a lead on the return as he battered through Djokovic's defense. The Brit turned up his aggression to earn himself a break point. A brilliantly angled backhand from Djokovic saved it and brought them to deuce. An error from the Brit gave Djokovic a game point but Murray continued to pile on the pressure to pull them back to deuce. Murray came through a battle of the cross court forehands with a bit of help from the net to see the third deuce of the game but Djokovic battled hard to win the intense mini-battle and level the set at 3-3.
Djokovic took a nasty fall in the next game, but with the help of two double faults from Murray, broke serve easily to go into the lead. Murray had chances on the return straight after at 0-30 but was unable to take advantage, allowing Djokovic straight back into the game and away with the hold.
The defending champion quickly earned a 30-0 lead as he was serving for the title, but Murray threw everything at him in attempt to take the break back. One break point quickly came and went for the Brit as Djokovic replaced it with a match point. Murray wasn't giving up just yet and fought to erase it and two more as he earned himself another break point. The world number one finally got the break and leveled the match, coming through the extremely intense game in thirteen minutes to level the set.
Murray fought extremely hard to hold in the next game and in the end, was gifted the hold with a point penalty as Djokovic smashed his racket in frustration. A signature Murray crosscourt backhand passing shot took him into the lead on the return and a second brought up two set points. A bad return into the net on the first was quickly corrected with a stunning backhand return, sealing the second set 7-5 and forcing a decider after saving three championship points.
Fighting to the finish
The Brit had a slow start as he served to begin the decider and Djokovic took advantage to push through to deuce. An ace brought up game point and the Brit closed down the net, volleying away the winner to hold and take his fifth game in a row. A love hold for Djokovic ended the streak and got the defending champion back on track. Murray replied with some excellent serving taking him through a quick hold of his own to lead 2-1.
Each man had another easy hold, leaving Murray in the lead at 3-2. The returner finally got some luck as Murray earned the first break point of the set. Djokovic was beginning to look fatigued and in some sort of pain, but still fought through the hold of serve to level the pair. The Serb took advantage of two second serves from Murray to take a 0-30 lead on return. The horror service game continued and Djokovic broke with a backhand into the net from Murray to take the lead.
Too many mistakes from Murray took Djokovic through an easy hold of serve and a game away from the title. The Brit had one more easy hold of serve to force Djokovic to serve for the title once more. Good defending from the world number one and a terrible smash from the Serb got Murray off to a lead and a backhand into the net extended it to 0-30. Two tired shots from the Brit and a backhand into the net brought up a fourth match point for Djokovic. There was no comeback this time from Murray, a forehand winner from the Serb sealing the win and defending his Doha title.