First blood to Djokovic
It was only a 250 ATP Tour event but the battle between the top two players in the world produced a performance befitting a Masters or even a Grand Slam final, such was the intensity and effort put it into it by the two protagonists.
He was close … all the way to the last shot you never know with Andy
The result saw the world number two defeat his higher ranked opponent in three sets after just under three hours of pulsating play.
Novak DjokovicÈs intentions of reclaiming the top ranking in the world was clearly evident as he protected the points he had by retaining the Qatar Open title and ending Andy MurrayÈs winning streak at 28 consecutive matches.
Murray, who was playing his fourth final in Doha, a record in itself, held his own for most of the match but a couple of lax periods let his Serbian rival take control, especially in the decider.
DjokovicÈs 6-3 5-7 6-4 victory was his 25th over the Briton and gives added impetus for the up-and-coming Australian Open where the Serb is also the defending champion and where Murray has made the final on five occasions without claiming the title, losing to the Serb in four of them!
Describing the British number one as his biggest rivalÈ Djokovic admitted they both had been pushed to their limits in this meeting which many expect will be repeated on several more occasions during the coming season.
Every match we play is a huge challenge, you have to accept and expect a great battle," Djokovic said to the media after his victory. "You saw tonight how much we both wanted to win. ItÈs a very physical battle and weÈre both going to need some time to recover from that and get ready for Melbourne.
There were three chances for Djokovic to close the match out in straight sets as he admitted: "I had three or four match points in the second set, he turned it around and I thought: Wow! I hope this isn’t payback time!
"He was close … all the way to the last shot you never know with Andy."
The tension manifested itself in Djokovic who received a warning for ball abuse after striking a ball in frustration at losing a point in the opening set, and then lost a penalty point in the second when he trashed his racket!
With the momentum swinging back to Murray at the start of the third set, the signs looked ominous for Djokovic who was starting to show signs of weariness in addition to his frustrations.
But then Murray allowed his form to drop to give Djokovic the opportunity to pounce and break him in the seventh game which proved decisive.
Serving for the match, Djokovic secured the title on his fourth match point, having squandered those three in the second set when Murray astonishingly recovered from 5-4 down and 40-15 to win three games in a row and force, at that point, an unlikely deciding set.
It was Murray’s first competitive defeat since losing to Juan Martin del Potro in the Davis Cup back in September.
Following a typically nervy start between the pair, Djokovic landed the first blow with his only break point of the first set.
In the eighth game of the opener, he came back from 40-15 down to win four consecutive points and break Murray’s serve.
Then, in the seventh game of the second set Djokovic broke Murray again despite falling over and banging his head during one rally.
That looked to be it but Murray would not be easily brushed aside, rallying to take the game into the decider.
At the end, Murray said he was "obviously disappointed" but was not disheartened by the result.
"I think physically it was a good test to start the year," he said and admitting his loss came because he didnÈt take his chances. "I had a break point at 3-2. In the last game I had love-30 on Novak’s serve and played a couple of loose shots. I think I had the first break point in the first set as well, and didn’t get it.
"He had one and took it, that was the difference this evening."
He concluded it wouldnÈt affect his chances in Melbourne. I have a chance to win the Australian Open still, he said but there is no doubt that Djokovic has gained the psychological advantage.