August 16, 2015
After more than two years and eight consecutive defeats, Andy Murray finally defeated Novak Djokovic. In doing so he won the Montreal Masters 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 and returned to number two in the world.
Murray certainly wasn’t second-best to Djokovic in Canada, whatever the latest rankings say. A backhand at its exquisite best and the serve of a true braveheart allowed the battling Scot to prevail in a match filled with tension.
Sure, Djokovic wasn’t exactly playing with his usual perfection, but that didn’t mean he was easy to beat either. It always takes something special to deny him, on the rare occasions he is overcome.
Murray had to be brilliant when it mattered and carried with him some secret inspiration, plus a burning desire to prove his doubters wrong.
Andy revealed afterwards: ‘My coach Amelie Mauresmo is back home, she gave birth to a baby boy this morning, I’m not sure she would have stayed up to watch, she’s probably a little bit tired, but Amelie, this win’s for you.
‘Last year was an extremely difficult year for me, I dropped out of the top ten and a lot of people lost belief in me. I’m very happy I’ve managed to get back to this level.’
A magnanimous Djokovic admitted: ‘Andy, you deserved to win, congratulations.’
Murray had two break points to go 5-1 ahead in the first set, a lead so emphatic that it might well have given him an easier winning platform for the match.
Instead he tightened and became tentative, as though familiar doubts were creeping in. Did he really have the right to beat Djokovic, after two years of painful defeats? Of course he did, because Murray’s backhand, in particular, was working like a dream. But it was almost as though someone needed to tell him, because there were times when that old inferiority complex seemed to be surfacing again.
Djokovic, who wasn’t playing well but retained the self-belief of a habitual winner, dug deep and clawed his way back into the contest. He broke after holding serve, then held again to level at 4-4.
But this was where Murray became truly impressive. Under pressure on his own serve once more, he held stubbornly and turned the tables again, forcing his way to two set points. When he made Djokovic pay on the second of those, it was as though a weight had lifted from his shoulders. An important psychological battle had been won, though anyone who knows the Serb could have felt fairly certain that the world number one would come storming back.
So it proved, as Djokovic broke immediately and raced to a 2-0 second set lead. The sheer mental effort it had taken to win the first set appeared to have left Murray temporarily short of concentration.
But with the Scot’s backhand still the star of the show, he was always in with a chance of finding a way back, and his astonishing execution of that shot left Djokovic momentarily clueless, as the Murray levelled at 3-3. Novak soon found the answers though, and simply broke once more. This time Andy lacked the intensity to stay in the set and the signs looked ominous.
How different it was at the start of the decider. Some big serving when it mattered got Murray off to the perfect start, and when he then rushed the net repeatedly to break and go 2-0 ahead, you sensed this was his day.
Djokovic was growing frustrated at his failure to summon his best tennis, while Murray was finally showing the raw aggression required to beat his opponent. Tantalisingly, the underdog consolidated to take a 3-0 lead. Could he finish the job?
As the drama built towards a climax, Djokovic made a monumental bid to break back in a seemingly never-ending game that saw him squander no less than six break points. It was a tribute to Murray’s determination that he emerged triumphant to go 4-1 ahead and stay in control. But after wasting three match points at 5-2, Andy lost that game and soon faced further strain, as Novak had break points to put the final set back on serve at 4-5.
Somehow, from somewhere, Murray found what it took to fight even harder. He ignored another squandered match point and got over the line with sheer guts and nerveless serving.
An amazing afternoon in the heat of Montreal was complete, Murray’s two-year wait over, the eight-match losing streak put to bed once and for all. At last, Andy had beaten his nemesis, Novak Djokovic. The Brit must have wondered if he would ever do it again.
His next target will be to do the same at the US Open, if required to do so. Murray admitted: ‘I was pretty aggressive and mixed my game up a bit. I need to analyse what went well this week and what I can improve on for the US Open.’
Back at world number two, Andy Murray is finally a force to be reckoned with once more. And Djokovic won’t be able to approach their next meeting with quite the same air of confidence.