Djokovic Beats Murray in 2017 Qatar Open Final
Well, we hoped for a match that would set the tone for what will almost certainly be the main rivalry of 2017. What we got was a quick jaunt back in time to pre-2016 Wimbledon times. In what was somehow their first match against each other in an ATP 250 final (they’ve been in every other final together), Djokovic soundly beat Murray in three sets.
The Scot, who took out Djokovic in straight sets in the ATP World Tour Finals mere weeks ago, never really looked like winning the 2017 Qatar Open final. Worryingly, he seemed to have regressed. Constantly bemoaned for his lacking of attacking instinct on the court, Murray seemed content for most of the match to simply put the ball on the court and hope for a mistake from the Serb.
Alas, there Nole didn’t oblige.
The 2017 Qatar Open Final Rundown
Instead, Djokovic repeatedly pushed Murray around, waiting for his moment to unleash a blistering cross-court or down the line forehand. The final score of 6—3, 5—7, 6—4 is an accurate representation; Murray didn’t get thrashed by any means, but he never really looked like winning.
The match started out promising for the world number one, who will remain top of the rankings going into the Australian Open. Murray pushed Djokovic to deuce on his first two service games, but it was Djoker who got the first break. Despite a nasty fall that saw him bump his head on the court. Murray was unable to get that break back, and the second set went in much the same fashion for the most part, with Murray being broken early on.
We did get a glimpse of late-2016 Murray, towards the end, however. At 5—4 down in the second set with Djokovic serving, Murray took the game to deuce multiple times, and had a handful of break points to grasp at. Eventually he took one with a rifling inside-out forehand that just clipped the line. One smashed racket (by Djokovic) and a second break later, and we were into a third set.
Unfortunately the comeback ended there.
Things started well for Murray in the third. Djokovic seemed uncertain, his confidence shook. It was beginning to look more like the last match we saw in London. But slowly, the Serb found his feet. So much so that he broke Murray to go 4—2 up. Murray would hold his next service game and pile the pressure onto Djokovic’s serve, but he just couldn’t break through.
The match ended on a fittingly brutal rally. Both players pounding the ball from baseline to baseline with shoulder-shaking power. It was a perfect metaphor for the pair. And perhaps just as fittingly it ended when Djokovic took the initiative, pushing Murray a little too wide. His backhand slice reply landed inside the service line, and Djokovic blasted a forehand down the court that clipped the baseline just beyond Murray’s reach.
The result casts doubt on Murray’s 2017 Australian Open chances. Many felt this might finally be Murray’s year after being runner up five times. The Murray/Djokovic rivalry has been a fairly lopsided one, but Murray seemed to have turned it around last year. Capturing the number one ranking from Djokovic, and beating him in the ATP World Tour Finals, seemed to have signified a power shift. So it seemed natural to assume Murray would be favourite going into Melbourne.
There was always doubt, however. That Murray has been the best player on the tour not called Novak Djokovic for the last couple of years was hardly questioned. And Murray’s achievement in the second half of 2016 didn’t require him to face off against the Serb once until the very final match of the year. All of a sudden, Murray’s win over Djokovic in London feels more like a statistical blip rather than a shift in power.
Confidence is a huge part of the game, and Murray has always been a particularly vulnerable player when it comes to mentality. The big question now is whether he can bounce back from this defeat? Does he have enough confidence and self-belief from his 2016 exploits to get over this result?
Only time will tell, of course. It’s easy to take it as a given that the Australian Open will be Murray Vs Djokovic. After all, it has been four times. Should the cards fall as expected, however. Should the top two players in the world face off in Melbourne. It will be the most intently watched match between the two for some time. If not ever.
The tour is underway, and first blood goes to Novak Djokovic in the 2017 Qatar Open final.
Bring on the Australian Open!