Djokovic sets record by taking down Murray for Miami Open title
Novak Djokovic has spent his entire career playing catchup in the record books. Now he has at least one significant record he can count as his own. The No. 1 seed outlasted No. 3 Andy Murray 7-6, 4-6, 6-0 to win his fifth Miami Open title. Having won the BNP Paribas Open two weeks ago, Djokovic became the first player in the Open Era to complete the grueling Indian Wells/Miami double three times in his career. He also won the back-to-back ATP Masters 1000s in 2011 and 2014.
Thoughts on Djokovic's flawless four weeks in North America:
Djokovic proves his resilience once again
It may sound like a broken record at this point given the number of times we've already seen it this season, but the Serb's ability to fight through lapses and will himself to tough wins needs to be celebrated. His mental fragility in tight moments was the ongoing story in 2013 and through 2014 until he seemed to put those demons to bed by beating Roger Federer in five sets at Wimbledon. Since then he's been virtually lights out.
Sunday's final was yet another physical slog of a tennis match between Djokovic and Murray. They have a knack for bringing out the best and worst of each other time and time again. Brilliant rallies and shot-making were followed up by double-faults or a string of needless unforced errors. Momentum was slippery. Much like the Australian Open final, Murray played some of his best tennis through two sets only to physically and mentally tap out. And, like the Australian Open final, it ended with a 6-0 final set to the Serb.
At least he has a good sense of humor about it:
Djokovic got his triple double the hard way
In addition to winning the double three times, Djokovic joined Roger Federer as the only players to ever do it back-to-back years. The Indian Wells/Miami double is an incredibly difficult feat in any era. Only seven men have ever done it. Rafael Nadal is still trying to win his first Miami title. Murray has never won Indian Wells. That Djokovic was able to do it during this Golden Era of men's tennis is an even greater accomplishment. Djokovic had to go through at least one member of the Big Four to win every double. In 2011 he beat Nadal in both finals. In the last two years he has beaten Federer in the Indian Wells final and Murray in Miami.
Andy Murray is getting there
These two met two weeks ago in Indian Wells and it was a match to forget for Murray. He lost 6-2, 6-3 in a lackluster performance and told reporters he got burned for a slow start in each set. This time Murray came out of the gate firing. He was cracking both his forehand and backhand with purpose, urging himself to be the aggressor and take risk. His serve was much better as well, as he upped the power on his first serve to try and get free points, even if it might give Djokovic a look on his vulnerable second serve. As a result, the first set could have gone either way. A few missed volleys and overheads go the other way and Murray easily could have come away with a straight set win. That's how good he was executing on his aggressive tactics.
But on the flip side, the match was another reminder of the amount of risk Murray has to take to get a shot at beating Djokovic (and Federer and Nadal, in fact). With Sunday's loss Murray is now on a seven-match losing streak to the Serb. When he beat Djokovic in 2013 to win Wimbledon, his entire game was flowing. The serve was working. So was the net game. He hit the forehand big and flat and leaned into the flat backhand as well. When he needed it, the backhand up the line was there for him. Murray, who will rise to No. 3 on Monday, is still working to get his game back to that 2013 level. But he's getting closer.
On to clay
Djokovic wants the French Open. He wants it badly. It would complete his career Grand Slam and put him firmly in the upper echelons of the game's all-time greats. He's the second best clay player on tour, which in the Rafael Nadal era is like saying he's the second smartest guy behind Albert Einstein.
As the tour moves to clay—the next big event is the Monte Carlo Masters in two weeks—all eyes will be on Nadal and Djokovic. All the recent numbers say Nadal is struggling to find a consistent level. All the historic numbers say none of that matters. When Rafa's feet touch Parisian clay he transforms into the dominant force he has been for nine of the last ten years. Is this the year Djokovic finally breaks through in Paris? The next two months terre battue won't be lacking in drama.