Britain’s Andy Murray said pride at becoming a new father may have given him the edge as he stunned world number one Novak Djokovic to win his maiden Rome Masters title.
Murray, the number two seed who suffered defeat to Djokovic in last week’s Masters final in Madrid, celebrated his 29th birthday in style on Sunday with a stylish 6-3, 6-3 victory in one hour, 35 minutes.
It is only Murray’s third clay-court title after his maiden victories on the red dirt in Munich and Madrid last year, but comes in timely fashion just two weeks before the start of the French Open at Roland Garros.
Becoming the first Briton to win in Rome since Patrick Hughes in 1931, it is also the first time Murray’s name has been added to a trophy since the birth of his daughter four months ago.
He said the arrival of his daughter has changed his outlook on life, but believes it will ultimately “have a positive effect on my tennis career”.
“The last thing I looked at today before I went on the court was a picture of my daughter,” said Murray.
In reality, Murray’s clay-court game is coming along nicely but a week after his Madrid defeat the stars aligned for the Scot.
“Every time I go up against him I know I have to play great tennis to win,” said Murray. “Any time you beat the best player in the world, it’s a big win.”
After Roger Federer fell in the third round, Murray was already assured of jumping one place up to number two in the ATP rankings when they are announced on Monday, albeit well behind runaway leader Djokovic.
But it is Murray’s growing power on clay that most fans will take away from a performance that Djokovic, visibly more fatigued after being pushed to a three-hour semi-final by Japan’s Kei Nishikori, while Murray finished much earlier after cruising past French lucky loser Lucas Pouille, could only salute.
“I knew it would be an uphill ride,” said Djokovic.
“He’s been playing at a very high level and to compete with him in the long rallies that we usually have requires a lot of energy.
“I’m not taking anything away from Andy’s win. He was the best player of the tournament. He’s using the court better now, and has more variety in his shots from the baseline.”
– Frustrated Djokovic –
The slippery conditions were not to Djokovic’s liking and Murray, who had no complaints about the weather, tried to capitalise.
He won 16 of his first 19 service points, taking a 5-2 lead with an ace down the T, and then wrapped up the opener with a sublime forehand drop-shot winner to wrap up the set in 46 minutes.
Djokovic’s game, and nerves began to come apart in a second set that saw umbrellas come out and hoods pulled up due to the occasional spattering of rain.
Leading 2-1, Djokovic complained to the umpire about the lack of a rain stoppage and minutes later, still battling to win the fourth game, he began remonstrating with himself.
The Serbian skimmed his racket off the ground in another angry gesture after Murray got the first break of the set in game five.
From then on, Djokovic’s game fell apart as Murray built on his noticeably superior serve, adding variety with drops shots and volleys at the net.
Murray added: “The thing that has cost me points recently has not been my serve. Last week, it was the same thing in Madrid, and it gives me a lot of confidence.”
Murray broke in the seventh game of the second set for a 4-3 lead, prompting Djokovic — from his chair — to start demanding a halt to the game due to rain due to the threat of injuries.
He explained later: “I didn’t ask to postpone the match. I asked for a little break to give us five minutes to arrange the court.
“We played on a very heavy court, it had been raining for an hour it was very muddy behind the baseline and I almost twisted my ankle three times.”