Andy Murray said the last two minutes of the match decided it. Novak Djokovic called it “another great match – another great performance from both of us.”
Their battles are becoming epic dog fights and this one, in the round-robin stage of the ATP World Tour Finals at London’s 02 Arena, went the way of the World No. 1 by 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Murray started like an express train, lost his way in the second set as Djokovic upped his game, had a break point chance early in the third, lost his own serve to go down 1-3, fought back to 5-5 and then, when the Serb was serving for the match, had two break back points which he failed to take.
The 17,800 people in this spectacular arena, many of them waving Union Jacks and Scottish flags and wearing tartan clothing, were left almost as breathless by all this as the players themselves.
This is a fairly quick indoor court so the rallies were not consistently as long as those seen when these two played out their incredible US Open final but, in that respect, the pattern didn’t change.
Whenever rallies did develop, it was Djokovic who did most of the running. It cost him in the fifth set at Flushing Meadows when his legs went, but that was never going to happen here and, anyway, he is always prepared to run against Murray.
It was pointed out that the stats say that Djokovic runs an average of 3.2 kilometers against Murray but only 1.8 kms against other players.
“It’s something I always have in the back of my mind when I play Andy,” Djokovic said. “It’s going to be physically very demanding. I didn’t expect anything less. I needed to work for my points. I needed to earn them. He was really taking his chances in the first set. He was the better player throughout that first part of the match. I had to hang in there.”
Djokovic is very good at hanging in there, although, like his opponent, he has become more aggressive in recent months, showing a willingness to get into the net more often.
Inevitably between these two, inches decided big points, such as Novak’s swing volley on Murray’s break point early in the second set which clipped the back of the line.
Murray rolled his eyes when HawkEye showed how close it was.
“What was I supposed to do about that?” Murray asked in a voice that suggested he is suffering from a cold.
And then there was the moment when he decided to serve and volley on a break point in the third set and missed with the volley.
“He served and volleyed on break point in the game before and hit the back end of the line. When I tried it, I got the return I wanted but I missed by two centimeters," Murray said. "These are the decisions you make in matches. If they come off, you get told you’re a genius. If you miss them, then you’re an idiot.”
Not really, but both these amazing athletes know that their games are so well-matched that they have to take risks. Some days they will come off and some days, they won’t.
It was their 17th career meeting and, incredibly, their seventh this year. Djokovic has now extended his lead to 10-7 in those, but would swap a few for the defeats Murray handed him in the semifinal of the Olympics at Wimbledon and that US Open final.
And, given the nature of the round-robin format, they could meet again here this week.
Both will probably need to win their next matches (Djokovic against Tomas Berdych and Murray against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) to be certain of reaching the knockout semifinals on Sunday. But, given their current form, another duel in another final is a definite possibility.
If Tsonga had beaten Berdych in the second singles match of the day, Djokovic would have qualified for the knock out semifinals from his round robin group. Instead, the Frenchman fell apart in the third set and allowed Berdych to power his way through to a 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 victory that leaves the group wide open with no one, as yet, certain of a place in the last four.