NOVAK Djokovic has drawn first blood in 2017’s battle of tennis superpowers, claiming an epic win over world No 1 Andy Murray in the Qatar ExxonMobil Open final.
Posting his 25th victory from 36 clashes against the Scot, Djokovic exulted in a dramatic 6-3 5-7 6-4 result in an electric prelude to the Australian Open in eight days.
Registering his first win over Murray since the Briton took over as world No 1, Djokovic was fortunate not to be defaulted after striking a spectator after angrily swatting a ball into the crowd in the first set.
He was then docked a point in the second set after obliterating a racquet as Murray saved three match points to push a pulsating encounter into a decider.
Djokovic’s temperamental outbursts were the only negatives in a complete and impressive performance, which ended Murray’s career-high winning streak of 28 matches.
Djokovic took six minutes short of three hours to land his 67th career title — and second in Doha — as Murray again served notice he has closed the gap to his archrival.
With 36 winners and 31 unforced errors to Murray’s 30 and 33, Djokovic lost his way when serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set.
And when Murray had the Serb on his knees, down a break point in the sixth game of the deciding set, it appeared as though he would prevail.
But Djokovic regrouped to win nine points in a row to regain control of the contest.
“I haven’t played so consistent and to start of the year with a win against No 1 of the world, the biggest rival, is a dream start..
“Definitely one of the best ways to start the year.
“After saving five match points and winning yesterday’s semi-final, I had three or four match points in the second set, and I thought ‘I hope this is not payback time.’
“He was close. All the way to the last shot you never know with Andy.
“No strange occurrence for both us to play three sets for three hours.
“It was a very physical battle and we’re both gonna need a little bit of time to recover from that and get ready for Melbourne.”
Murray and Djokovic will be seeded to clash in the final of the Australian Open, where Djokovic is chasing a record seventh Melbourne Park crown and five-time runner-up Murray seeks his first crown.