Two boys stood on the top row of the stadium, beautiful Biscayne Bay at their back and the world’s best tennis player down below, as they waved a sign in his support.
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”Djokovic in the house,” it read.
From the youngsters’ remote perch, Novak Djokovic looked like a tiny figure, yet he still loomed large. The top-ranked Djokovic won his third Sony Ericsson Open title Sunday, holding every service game to beat Andy Murray 6-1, 7-6 (4).
Djokovic improved to 20-2 this year and 90-8 since the start of 2011. He didn’t lose a set in six rounds at Key Biscayne.
”I’m playing at the peak of my form … the best tennis that I have played,” Djokovic said. ”I have to use that as much as I can.”
He also won the tournament in 2007 and last year. Only six-time champion Andre Agassi has more men’s titles at Key Biscayne.
Mulling how to celebrate his latest trophy, Djokovic said he might violate his gluten-free diet.
”I cannot guarantee anything,” he said with a laugh. ”I think I deserve a fresh bagel.”
It was Djokovic’s first championship since he won the Australian Open in January for his fifth Grand Slam title and third in a row. Now begins the clay season culminating with the French Open, the only major Djokovic has yet to win.
”This is very encouraging for me prior to the clay-court season,” he said. ”I’m going to have more confidence.”
The lone break point Djokovic faced in the final came in the fifth game, and he erased that. He lost only one service point in the tiebreaker, went ahead to stay when Murray double-faulted to make it 3-2, and closed out the victory when the Scotsman sailed his final forehand long.
”I managed to play my best tennis when I needed to,” Djokovic said.
He’s enjoying his success. Warming up before a match earlier in the week, he joked with fans and used his racket handle to whack balls to them.
”Honestly, I’m not a big fan of baseball,” the Serb said with a smile. ”I’m a fan of hitting the home runs with a tennis racket at the practice sessions.
”We try to come up with some crazy ideas and invent new sports on the tennis court. Yesterday we played a little tennis hockey, if you want to call it, or whatever. So we like having fun.”
Djokovic said he felt ready for a physical final after a day off, while the No. 4-seeded Murray was also fresh but rusty after needing only three matches to reach the last round. He advanced twice due to walkovers, and was playing for the first time since Wednesday, which may have explained his slow start.
”Maybe it took a few games to get used to the pace,” Murray said.
The lopsided early score was a bit misleading, but Djokovic won the pivotal points and hit an ace to close out the 47-minute first set.
The tense second set featured a succession of entertaining rallies. Djokovic lost one 26-stroke baseline exchange that left him panting, hands on his knees on the sunny, 85-degree afternoon.
Eager to finish, he twice was forced to deuce on his serve in the second set and slapped his hips in frustration more than once, wary of a Murray rally.
”That’s why he’s right at the top – he always comes back, even if you feel you have control of the match,” Djokovic said. ”I’m really happy to close it out in straight sets.”
Their friendly rivalry began when both were juniors, and Djokovic now has an 8-5 edge.
”He doesn’t have many holes in his game,” Murray said. ”When you play against him, it takes normally six, seven, eight shots, like 15-, 16-shot rallies, to win a lot of points. You have to be very patient, pick your moments to go for the right shots. That’s why he’s been so good the last 18 months.”
The final matched two of the game’s best returners, but it was serving that dominated. Murray faced eight break points and erased six.
Djokovic’s serve was even better, and he won seven of his final eight service points. With the victory complete, he screamed to match the roar from the crowd, looked to the sky, pumped his arms and blew kisses – a celebratory routine now well-rehearsed.