The dream Qatar ExxonMobil Open final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in its 25th anniversary edition virtually had everything in store — entertainment, thrills, drama, frenzy.
Though it was not a grudge match by any means, Djokovic’s hard-fought 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 win against Murray at the Khalifa International Complex is surely an early warning signal to the man who deposed him as world No.1 recently.
It was in September that Murray had ended Djokovic’s undisputed 122-week reign at the top and the former celebrated his ascendancy to No.1 by defeating the Serb in the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Since then, the talk has been about how long Murray would be able to cling on to the top spot and how long would it take for Djokovic to bounce back.
The first question remains open to further debate. If one goes by Djokovic’s title defence in Doha, then the redemption has just begun in the Qatari capital.
Djokovic, who became the first player since Murray (2009) to win back-to-back titles in Doha, admitted that it was the kind of dream start he was looking ahead of the Australian Open title defence on January 16.
“This is the best scenario I could’ve asked for at the beginning of the season. Winning a thrilling marathon match against the world No.1 and the biggest rival is something that definitely can serve as a positive incentive for what’s coming up in Australia,” said Djokovic after the encounter which lasted 2hrs, 54min.
The 29-year-old had to really dig deep to clinch his second Falcon Trophy in Doha, which he collected from Ali Al Fardan, who was the president when the Qatar Tennis Federation hosted the tournament for the first time in 1993.
In the semifinal, Djokovic saved five match points against Fernando Verdasco while in the final, he missed out on three match points in the second set before ending Murray’s 28-match winning streak. It also saw Djokovic getting two warnings, including a point penalty.
Djokovic feels the final has set the tone for the season.
“Every match is a huge challenge. You’ve to expect a great battle. Playing against your biggest rival always adds a little bit more flavour to it. You don’t want to lose against the biggest rival in the beginning of the season. I’m sure we both felt the same way. But one had to win; the other had to lose.
“This time, I was fortunate that I was on the winning side, but I expect a lot of battles with him to come. We make each other work hard and improve, and continuously work on our games and ourselves,” added Djokovic.
Last year, Djokovic won his maiden title in Doha and then went on to clinch his sixth Australian Open title. An encore in the offing? If he wins at Melbourne, he will surpass Roy Emerson’s record. It’s advantage Djokovic!