Andy Murray can finally celebrate ending Novak Djokovic's recent monopoly over him after the Scot produced a wonderful performance to be crowned the emperor of the 2016 Rome Masters. His first win over Djokovic in five attempts, Murray's first title of the season came after a dominant 6-3 6-3 win.
Murray dominates from the off as Djokovic struggles to find form
When did Murray last produce such a dominant performance over Novak Djokovic? When did any man on the ATP tour, for that matter? In a rain plauged final in which Djokovic looked errant throughout, Murray started the sharper of the two, sealing an early break in controversial fashion as the heavens threatened to open.
The break came in only the third game of the match, when Djokovic, who had already berated the Umpire during the first two games of the match as a result of the weather, fired a backhand wide after some intense pressure from Murray. The break did little to improve the mood of the Serb, who only continued his attack on the unfortunate man in the chair. The Serb demanded that the game be stopped, citing the heavy clay which was proving difficult underfoot for both players.
However, the umpire stubbornly refused to give in to his demands, and play continued as Murray began to assert his authority over the world number one. This did little to improve Djokovic's mood.
Whilst Murray's play was consistently steady throughout, and at times breathtaking, Djokovic struggled to find the deadly angles he usually does with ease, sending a flurry of shots wide or long, greeting each miss with a despondent loook towards the heavens.
Yet, there's a reason Novak Djokovic had won five out of the last six finals between the two, including last week's Madrid epic. Although this duel never threatened to reach the dramatic heights of last weekend, Djokovic's never-say-die attitude almost came to fore when he pushed Murray into a corner at 4-2. Trailing 15-30, Murray looked to be out of the point after Djokovic fired a ball towards his feet, but the Scot showed incredible reflexes to somehow claw the ball back into play, firing a backhand winner which wrongfooted Djokovic and dragged the game back to 30-30.
It would prove crucial and epitomised the drama of the match as a whole. Anytime Djokovic looked like grabbing the upperhand, Murray found a way to stop him.
Another downpour of rain threatened to derail the Murray cause as he stepped up to serve for the set at 40-30 5-3, and the clamour of the spectators to defend themselves from the weather's wrath could have proven damaging. However, he steadied himself and played a superb point, delicately dropping the ball over the net to seal the set.
A furious Djokovic had another go at the weather and the umpire, whilst Murray remained calm, pumping his fist towards his Amelie Mauresmo-less team in celebration. He could sense the victory was close, in what would be his first over Djokovic since last year's Rogers Cup final in August.
The first set had proven an odd enigma, with the players seemingly having swapped their traditional roles. It was Murray's turn to produce a highly composed set of tennis, whereas Djokovic's mood could have soured an already darkened sky.
The second set starts brighter for Djokovic, but Murray proves too good in the end
To his credit, Djokovic started the second set in a far better manner, easily winning his opening service game and remaining focussed during the break as Murray took his chance to revert to form, having a heated discussion with the Umpire.
The level of tennis seemed to drastically up in the second set, especially given the upturn of Djokovic. Both men attacked one another with a smattering of drop shots, lobs and slices, but neither looked like faltering.
However, another slip from Djokovic at 1-2 for the Serb with Murray on the ropes proved crucial. Audibly swearing towards the umpire, he then watched several break point chances come and go before Murray held on for dear life.
This seemed to be playing on the Serb's mind when Murray finally secured the crucial break of the second set in the very next game. A simply brilliant volley at the net gave Djokovic no hope of saving the break, and now Murray only had to avoid being broken himself to win his first title of the year.
There were chances for Djokovic in the remaining games of Murray, especially when at 15-15 in the next game. Djokovic exerted his superiority during the rally, forcing Murray all over the court and having to play a wide varriety of shots just to stay in the point. When Djokovic played a drop shot and Murray could only palm it back, the point looked to have been won. However, Murray reached into the heavens to catch the ensuing lob and recovered to see Djokovic send the next ball long. A deflated Djokovic looked on in disbelief as Murray roared towards his box in delight.
'I don't want to play anymore..'
With the match seemingy beyond him, Djokovic chose to spend the next break in another heated discussion with the umpire. 'I don't want to play anymore...does someone have to get injured for you to get the point?' He cried in vain. Would he have complained as much had he been the man only two games away from victory?
Said victory for Murray came in simply stunning circumstances as he produced a defensive masterclass to dig himself out of a hole on match point, before reading a Djokovic smash at the net and sending the ball back beyond the disbelieving Serb and into the empty court for match point. It proved a fitting end to the match for Murray, who had been the better player throughout, despite Djokovic's complaints.
Naturally, Djokovic's late finish the night before must be taken into account, which the Scot acknowledged in his speech, and the conditions no doubt played their part. But on the day, Murray was simply the better player and will look towards Roland Garros with a real sense of cautious enthusiasm.