Murray defeats Djokovic for Sony Ericsson title

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Andy Murray hit second serves for aces, slipped passing shots through the narrowest openings and rarely made a mistake.

It was a performance worthy of a trophy, and Murray became the first Brit to win the Sony Ericsson Open by defeating Novak Djokovic 6-2, 7-5 Sunday.

The Scotsman used his vast repertoire of shots and took advantage of two wobbly stretches by Djokovic, who struggled with the 85-degree heat.

Djokovic rushed his strokes at the start and fell behind 4-love. In the second set, Murray rallied from a break down at 1-4, overcame two set points and won 10 of the final 11 points.

The No. 4-seeded Murray committed only 19 unforced errors, patiently mixing the pace and direction of his shots to keep the No. 3-seeded Djokovic off balance.

“It’s my way of dictating how the match is getting played,” Murray said. “A lot of people might not necessarily think my game looks the most aggressive or offensive, but very few times will I not have the points played how I like them to be played.”

Twice Murray hit second serves for aces, and he threw in several effective change-up first serves, including a 76 mph ace. He mixed in some power, too, finishing one point with a leaping overhead a la Pete Sampras.

When rallying from the baseline didn’t work for Djokovic, he tried charging the net, and Murray repeatedly beat him with crosscourt passing shots.

“You have to say, `Well done,”’ Djokovic said.

It was a matchup between Nos. 3 and 4, instead of the anticipated showdown between Nos. 1 and 2. Top-ranked Rafael Nadal lost in the quarterfinals to Juan Martin del Potro, and Djokovic upset Roger Federer in the semifinals.

Lately Murray has won more than anyone. He’s the first three-time titlist this year on the men’s tour thanks to a career-best 26-2 start, and since July his record is 57-7, best on the tour.

With U.S. tennis fortunes flagging, maybe Americans can claim Murray, who owns a condo near Key Biscayne and trained during the winter at the University of Miami. Back home, he’s touted as a threat to become the first British man since 1936 to win Wimbledon.

The benefits of Murray’s conditioning regimen showed as he repeatedly scrambled into the corners to retrieve shots.

“Physically he’s moving much better all over the court,” Djokovic said. “The balls he wasn’t getting before, he is now.”

Despite the sweltering sunshine, Murray’s legs looked fresh throughout the match, while Djokovic appeared to wilt quickly and consulted with a trainer early in the second set. The Serb has a history of not finishing matches, most recently at this year’s Australian Open quarterfinals against Andy Roddick on a 95-degree day.

“Yet again I was, I think, the biggest enemy to myself,” Djokovic said. “I was struggling again adjusting to the heat. That’s just the way it is. I can’t fight it. It has been for a while like this.”

Warm weather wasn’t a problem for Djokovic when he won the Key Biscayne title in 2007, but the steamy conditions had him panting from the outset Sunday.

“He has been struggling with it this year, but he’s obviously a great player,” Murray said. “You need to get him to that point where he feels like it’s very tough and the points are long. That’s not an easy thing to do.”

Following Djokovic’s visit with the trainer, he began playing riskier tennis to keep the points short, and for a while the strategy worked. He broke twice to win four games in a row, and Murray needed 16 points in the next game to hold for 2-4.

“He started to come to the net on 60, 70 percent of the points,” Murray said. “I started mishitting some balls and lost my rhythm for a little while.”

Djokovic had two set points serving in the ninth game, but on the first he was unable to handle a sharp return, and on the second he double-faulted.

Forehand errors by Djokovic on consecutive points gave Murray the break, cutting the margin to 5-4. Murray hit three aces to hold for 5-all, broke in the next game at love and swept the final four points to close out the match.

The statistics reflected Murray’s well-rounded game: He won 26 of 34 points on his first serve, broke Djokovic five times and won 10 of 11 points at the net.

The tour now moves to clay, where Murray hopes to gain ground in the rankings on Nadal, Federer and Djokovic.

“The clay-court season will be very important for me,” Murray said. “On the hard courts, I think my game is up there with the top guys. On grass it definitely got better last year. I need to improve my results on clay. If I do that, there’s a chance I’ll get higher.”

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