How The Rome Final Was Won: Murray Takes Title
For the second time in eight days, Murray and Djokovic battled for an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title. The Scot released his rival's grip on the FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry, which had seen Djokovic win 12 of their previous 13 encounters after lifting the Mutua Madrid Open trophy a week ago. Murray clinched a 12th Masters 1000 crown and second on clay, after capturing the title last year in Madrid (d. Nadal).
Djokovic, meanwhile, fell in his quest to add a fifth Rome crown to his haul, having emerged victorious in 2008, '11 & '14-15. The World No. 1 was also bidding to become the first player to capture 30 Masters 1000 titles, in addition to crossing the $100 million mark in career prize money.
Here is how the final unfolded...
FIRST SET - Murray 6-3
With the sun fighting through the clouds on an overcast early evening in Rome, Djokovic looked to spoil Murray's 29th birthday. The Serb was just 12 hours removed from claiming a grueling three-hour clash against Kei Nishikori in the semi-finals, while the Scot enjoyed a routine 59-minute victory over Lucas Pouille.
Murray was the fresher of the two gladiators at the start, earning a trio of break chances in Djokovic's first service game. The top seed would deny them all, with Murray missing a backhand approach shot to the open court on his third. Djokovic would secure the critical early hold after more than 11 minutes, as rain drops started to descend on the Foro Italico. But the World No. 1 would not be as fortunate two games later. Murray drew a backhand error with a forehand rifled deep into the ad court, grabbing the first break of the match for 3-1.
The World No. 3 was eager to pounce on balls left short in the court and dictate from the baseline, as he did in efficiently notching the second set a week ago in Madrid. Murray also looked to hit behind Djokovic often and force the Serb to change direction in the slippery conditions, a tactic Nishikori employed with great success in the semi-finals. He would win 16 of his first 19 service points, punctuating a 5-2 lead with an ace down the T. As the skies opened once again and the rain returned, Murray wrapped up the opener 6-3 with a sublime forehand drop shot winner. He would take the first set after just 46 minutes, striking 11 winners, including five off his forehand wing.
SECOND SET - Murray 6-3
With Murray's foot firmly on the accelerator after a strong opener, Djokovic looked to take more risk and attack with less margin as the second set commenced on Center Court. The Serb pulled the trigger on a drop shot with the Scot pushed well behind the baseline, earning his first break point at 0-1 30/40. But Murray would fight off Djokovic's bid for a rapid momentum swing and again denied two more break points at 1-2. The Dunblane native successfully employed a high-risk, high-reward serve-and-volley to stave off the first and benefited from a Djokovic error to turn aside the second.
Striking his forehand deep to Djokovic's backhand, Murray was poised to put a stranglehold on the match with a break point at 2-2 30/40. A rifled second serve return left Djokovic reeling, as the 29 year old came forward and put away an easy winner to secure the break.
Entering a critical moment at 4/3 30/30, Murray, who was 0/7 on second serve points, went big with his second offering to hold for 5-3. He secured the title a game later as Djokovic's serve crumbled. The World No. 1 double faulted to give Murray his first match point and a lasered backhand winner secured the victory, his first in the Italian capital. The second seed prevailed after one hour and 35 minutes.