Tennis

Djokovic to face rested Murray in final

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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla.

Finally, after one semifinal that never got on court and a 6-0 first set in the second, a packed Stadium Court crowd got to see some competitive tennis Friday at the Sony Ericsson Open. But by that time it was 8:45 p.m.

Janko Tipsarevic

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A day that had promised so much first saw Andy Murray move through to Sunday’s final when Rafael Nadal withdrew with a knee problem. Then, Novak Djokovic started to steamroll Juan Monaco before the Argentine, who had ousted Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish in previous rounds, got to grips with the occasion. But it was too late to stop Djokovic from closing it out in the tiebreaker to win 6-0, 7-6 (5).

“It was a similar match to yesterday against David Ferrer,” Djokovic said. “In both matches, I served for the match and couldn’t close it out. All credit to Juan for fighting and coming back. I wasn’t aggressive enough in the second set. I needed to step up. He got the momentum going, and it was very close in the end.”

As soon as Monaco was able to find some rhythm on the groundstrokes that had proved so effective early in the week, he was able to move Djokovic around sufficiently to make occasional winning sorties to the net. He also tried to make the most of the fact that the world No. 1 was not having a great serving match, with only 48 percent of first serves finding their mark.

“It is something I will have to work on for the final,” Djokovic admitted.

The afternoon session had been ruined when Nadal realized that the pain in his left knee, which he had been feeling even at Indian Wells, was getting worse. The Spaniard has had knee trouble in the past and, although he insisted the prospect of it did not influence his decision, the proximity of the European clay-court season, where he gains so many of his ranking points, must have played heavily on his mind. In two weeks, he will try to win Monte Carlo for the eighth straight time and, after that, Barcelona, Rome and Madrid will be big tournaments for him before the French Open.

“I am not ready to compete,” he said. “This is the truth. I am very sorry for the fans, for the tournament (and) for everybody who was going to watch on television, but I cannot go on court and lie to everybody.”

Murray was left trying to make up his mind whether it was a good or bad thing to have so much time without playing prior to a big final. For the first time in his career, he has received two walkovers in one tournament — Milos Raonic having withdrawn from their third-round match.

“It’s never happened to me before, so I don’t really know how I am going to feel for the final,” he said. “The positives are that you are going to be fresh. But it’s strange.”

Andy Murray and Kim Sears

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Coach Ivan Lendl called up two right-handed practice partners as soon as they heard the left-handed Nadal would not be Murray’s next opponent. Lendl kept the Scot out on the Stadium Court for 45 minutes of extra practice. “But that’s all we’ll do today,” Lendl said. “We have all day tomorrow to prepare.”

This tournament has had more than its fair share of bad luck with withdrawals in finals. Lendl himself was the beneficiary in 1989 when Thomas Muster, who had just beaten Yannick Noah that evening in the semifinal, was hurt when a car backed in to him as he retrieved a bag from the trunk. On another occasion, in 1996, Goran Ivanisevic could not complete in the final because of a stiff neck. And, in 1994, Andre Agassi agreed to give Pete Sampras more than an hour to get over stomach sickness before they played the final. Sampras thanked him by winning. The most recent occasion occurred in 2004 when Guillermo Coria retired against Andy Roddick.

With luck, both Djokovic and Murray will turn up hale and hearty this Sunday.

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