Novak Djokovic gained a psychologically advantage over Andy Murray in the first event of 2017 after beating the Scot in a thrilling final at the Qatar Open.
The Serb, who lost the world number one ranking to Murray at the end of last year, recorded a 6-3 5-7 6-4 victory to gain valuable momentum ahead of next week’s Australian Open- the first Grand Slam of the year.
After falling a set behind, Murray, who was on a 28-match winning run, saved three match points in an epic second set before forcing a decider.
At that stage the Scot appeared the favourite, however it was Djokovic who eventually prevailed in a gruelling 2 hours and 54 minutes.
Not a regular ATP 250 event
The pair’s previous meeting had come just 48 days ago, when Murray triumphed to win the ATP World Tour Finals and secure the end of year number one ranking.
Murray couldn’t lose that status even if he’d lost in the first round here. That’s because the tournament in Qatar only offers 250 ranking points to the winner and is ranked in the lowest tier of ATP tour events.
It didn’t feel like that, though, as the world number one and two stepped onto court to renew a rivalry which soared at the end of last year.
As you’d expect the standard was incredibly high from the off, as pair settled with some prolonged rallies from the baseline.
It took nearly half an hour to complete just four games, with Djokovic requiring attention for a blister on his hand which opened up midway through the fourth game.
Both players were efficient on serve, as Djokovic saved the first break point of the match following a barrage of aggressive returns from Murray in the fifth game.
Murray blinks first
However, with Djokovic serving first in the opening set any slip up from Murray was always likely to be fatal.
When serving at 3-4, the Scot led 40-15 before making four uncharacteristic errors which handed Djokovic the first break of the match.
It ultimately cost Murray the set as Djokovic went on to hold the following game to 0.
The early stages of the second set followed a similar pattern, and every time a break point opportunity appeared to be brewing it was subsequently stubbed out by the server.
Once again, though, it was Murray who blinked first, double faulting at 3-3 when break point down.
Three match points come and go
Given that Murray has never beat Djokovic from a set down in 19 attempts, it would have been no surprise if the Serb had gone on to wrap up the match in straight sets.
He had three opportunities when serving for the match at 5-4, however Murray extinguished each match point with combination of aggression and guts.
The world number one then held his serve after Djokovic was given a point penalty for smashing his racquet and the Scot broke again in the following game to clinch the set 7-5.
Djokovic finds a way
Serving first in the decider, Murray appeared to have Djokovic on the ropes but, as he often does, the Serb somehow managed to defy the odds.
A couple of loose errors at 3-3 allowed Djokovic to break to 0 and a couple of games later he made no mistake when serving for the match a second time.