In the last nine months, Andy Murray has won Olympic gold, a Grand Slam title and a Sony Open title. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
With the help of an untimely Hawk-Eye challenge, Andy Murray outlasted David Ferrer 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1) on Sunday to win his second Sony Open title and unseat Roger Federer to become the No. 2 player for the first time since September 2009.
It wasn't pretty tennis, as the pair combined for 95 unforced errors to just 37 winners and 15 service breaks over two hours and 45 minutes. The match was decided on physicality, as Ferrer succumbed to cramps while Murray was able to fight through his fatigue (and save a match point) to win his second title of the season.
Five thoughts on the match that ultimately turned on cramping, both mental and physical, and what it means as the tour moves back to Europe:
• The match was brutal, ugly and, in the end, completely enthralling: Yes, we tune in hoping to see blazing winners, feathery touch and clutch serving. But we also tune in for the pure drama, and oftentimes that drama has little to do with the quality. For two and a half sets, this was a tough match to watch or enjoy. Ferrer raced out to a 5-0 lead by playing some aggressive but efficient tennis, while Murray sprayed 19 unforced errors to Ferrer's eight and struggled to find his rhythm.
"Conditions too slow," Andy Roddick tweeted during the match. "Guys dying playing 3 sets. So slow. Makes it impossible to hit winners which results in messed up winners/errors ratio."
Once Murray cleaned up his game in the second set, it was Ferrer who began to miss the mark, matching Murray's numbers with 19 unforced to let the Scot back into the match. Any hopes that the third set would see the two finally find their form and play well at the same time were dashed when the two traded breaks for six straight games before Ferrer finally stopped the streak to hold to 4-3.
From there, the quality dropped even more as both men struggled with fatigue. That's when things took a turn for the dramatic, though. With both men struggling with their form and their fitness, the match transformed into a pure test of guts and willpower.
"I don't think either of us played our best tennis," Murray said. "There was a lot of breaks and ups and downs, quite a lot of mistakes from both of us. But what I did do was fight hard, showed good mental strength to get through that match, because it easily could have slipped away from me."
Which brings us to ...
• The curse of Hawk-Eye: Hawk-Eye is the best technological advancement of the modern game and players generally love it. But how would this match have turned if Ferrer didn't have the luxury of stopping a point to challenge a non-call on the baseline?
First, the set-up: As Ferrer began to feel some cramping in his legs, Murray took advantage, holding serve and breaking in the ninth game of the third set to give himself an opportunity to serve out the match at 5-4. But Ferrer broke him with ease and held to 6-5, and it was Murray's turn to wobble between points and gasp for air. As Murray served to force a decisive tiebreaker, Ferrer's surge of momentum and adrenaline earned him match point at 30-40. He was one point away from accomplishing a feat that has even eluded Rafael Nadal: become the first Spaniard to win the title in Miami.
Maybe the pressure was too much. Maybe the physical fatigue clouded his judgment. Maybe he was just really convinced the ball was out. But when Murray scorched a forehand deep on the baseline, Ferrer sent the ball back but stopped the rally to call for a Hawk-Eye review, hoping the ball was out. It was in by millimeters. Murray went on to hold to force the tiebreaker (which, incidentally, began just as CBS ended its coverage and switched to the start of the NCAA tournament game between Florida and Michigan, leaving Tennis Channel to air the conclusion).
Ferrer's body then finally gave out on him. He collapsed to the court with cramps early in the tiebreaker, allowing Murray to run away with it 7-1.
You can watch match highlights in the video below. The Hawk-Eye challenge is at the 3:14 mark.
• Murray's serve was atrocious: Murray serve horribly all day. He had seven double faults, often at the most inopportune times. He won just 39 percent on his second serve and double-faulted on set point in the first set and double-faulted again on a break point early in the third set. Overall, it's been a scratchy year for the Murray serve, which he'll need to improve as the tour turns to clay and grass.
• Once again, Ferrer fights but comes up short: The Big Four continue to serve as the titanium ceiling on Ferrer's career. The 30-year-old fell to 0-12 against the Big Four in finals, having lost seven times to Nadal, twice to Murray and once each to Novak Djokovic and Federer. It was another valiant effort from the fighting Spaniard, who came back from a break down four times in the final set before he finally ran out of gas -- as Roddick noted:
• The Big Three redefined
: As the tour moves on to the clay and grass season, it's worth noting that the three biggest titles of the year have been spread among three men: Djokovic (Australian Open), Nadal (Indian Wells) and Murray (Miami). Federer, meanwhile, has failed to make a single final, with losses to Murray, Nadal, Julien Benneteau and Tomas Berdych. It's hard to back Federer's chances of snapping that final-less streak on clay now that Madrid has abandoned the quick blue surface that served him so well last year, but it's definitely a storyline to watch.