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Beyond the Baseline

Novak Djokovic ousts Andy Murray amid officiating controversy at Sony Open

Novak Djokovic admitted that his racket crossed the net while hitting the shot, but the chair umpire missed it. (Al Bello/Getty Images) Novak Djokovic admitted that his racket crossed the net while hitting the shot, but the chair umpire missed it. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

In their first clash of the season, Novak Djokovic defeated Andy Murray 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the semifinals of the Sony Open, where he will play either Roger Federer or Kei Nishikori. The match featured a high-quality first set of tennis from both men before a controversial officiating decision left Murray unraveled.

With Murray serving to force a first-set tiebreak at 5-6,  Djokovic raced into the net on the first point of the game and appeared to make contact with the ball on Murray's side of the net -- which is against the rules -- as he hit the put-away winner. The chair umpire, Damien Steiner, made no call but when the stadium big screens showed the replay, Murray wanted answers.

He asked Djokovic whether he crossed the net to hit the ball and Djokovic apparently said his racket was over the net. Officials are not allowed overturn their calls based on video board replays so the call had to stand. If that sounds familiar, perhaps Milos Raonic's "Hypothetically/Technically" net-touch incident is coming to mind.

Watch the point -- apologies for the choppy video -- below:

http://youtu.be/W7oIbh16aEM

And here's a closeup photo of Djokovic's point of contact -- well over the net.

After the point, Murray seemed to lose his focus, as he was broken easily at love to lose the set. Not surprisingly, he continued to discuss the point with Steiner during the set break. The way Steiner saw it, Djokovic made contact with the ball on his side of the net but then followed through across to Murray's side, which is permissible.

Murray was incredulous. "You're having a laugh, man! You can see it on the replay. He even said his racket was over the net. Novak said his racket was over the net! He said the racket was over the net! Over the net!"

Steiner interpreted Djokovic's admission to mean he made contact right over the plane of the net and not on Murray's side.

"You're telling me it's possible for you to judge when he's saying his racket was over the net that it was right in line with the tape?"

Murray asked, but the discussion was to no avail. You can understand Murray's frustration. He was on the wrong end of the same call two weeks ago against Jiri Vesely in Indian Wells.

"I'm not angry," Murray said after the match. "It maybe had a slight bearing on that game, but I was still up a break in the second set."

Watch the entire exchange below:

http://youtu.be/xPu6zuBrMX8

From the replay, it looks clear that the chair umpire missed this call, but why didn't Djokovic concede the point after admitting to Murray he crossed the net to hit the ball? As it turns out, he didn't know that wasn't allowed. "It might be my mistake as well," he told ESPN. "I think I crossed the net with the racket and won the point. I didn’t touch the net. I really had a bad experience with that last year at French Open against Rafa [Nadal] -- I touched the net and lost the point. Maybe the rule is you’re not allowed to pass on his side with the racket. I’m not sure. You tell me. I told him that I thought I’m allowed to pass with the racket over the net but not without touching the net, it’s my point. Maybe he’s right, I’m not sure. Obviously that distracted him mentally and after that he gave the set away."

The match may be remembered for the officiating dust-up but there were positives to be taken for both players after the match. For Murray, it was his best performance of the year and quite possibly since his Wimbledon win last summer. His movement looked rock-solid, his hitting was clean and most importantly, there was clear intent behind every shot he hit. His failure to defend his Miami title will send him down to No. 8 in the rankings on Monday, but he says he's right on track with where he wants to be.

For Djokovic it was a steady and clean performance in tricky conditions, as the wind swirled around the Stadium Court at Crandon Park. Djokovic fought off a charge in the second set when Murray grabbed an early break, but he broke back and closed it out by winning the last 12 points of the match. He finished with 19 winners and 21 unforced errors (Murray hit 16 winners and 29 unforced) an impressive sheet given the conditions.

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