Well, this much we now know about 2012. Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 player, is not going to slice and slash his way through the first half of the year undefeated, as he did in 2011. Andy Murray took care of that today in the semifinals in Dubai, hammering Djokovic, 6-2, 7-5.
It was a nearly perfect performance by Murray, whose hand grew shaky just once—when he served for the match at 5-3 but was broken at 15. On another day, Djokovic might have leaped all over the opportunity to turn the tables, momentum-wise. But despite a very promising start, it was a bad day all around for the defending champ and top seed.
Through the first four games, the level of execution evoked memories of the epic battle Murray and Djokovic fought in January's Australian Open semifinal. Murray especially looked like he was indisposed to yielding ground. But there would be no perfect storm on this day, because Djokovic quickly lost his touch and range. That accounted for the break that gave Murray a 4-2 first-set lead, but the turning point in the match occurred in the next game, with Murray serving.
The Scot, ranked No. 4, fell behind 15-40. He wobbled through the first break point, somehow saving it with a drop shot. He wiped away the second one with a forehand drive off Djokovic's service return; the shot went right at the Serb's body, but he was slow to get out of the way and misplayed his own forehand. It was a telling error on a day when Djokovic simply didn't move or control his shots with the customary facility.
Once Murray reached the haven of deuce in that critical game, he finished off the hold with a pair of service winners.
Murray served brilliantly today, but he also hit the ball big and made a handful of defensive saves that nobody, perhaps not even the man he beat, could duplicate. It isn't very often that you can throw up a desperate lob from a full stretch to give Djokovic a relatively easy overhead and still end up winning the point, but Murray did that—and more—today.
A 5-2 lead can represent just one break (that was the case here), but it's a mighty comfortable- looking cushion, and to reverse the tide from there can seem a monumental task. Djokovic was not up to it, and he raced out to a 0-40 deficit thanks to two glaring errors and a nifty backhand by Murray. Djokovic saved the first break point, but Murray then got the best of him in a wild and woolly rally to secure the set, 6-2.
Murray held to start the second set, and he broke again in the next game—the break point was the one in which Murray, in a seemingly hopeless position, threw up that aforementioned desperate lob to keep the point going, and ultimately won it when Djokovic flubbed a cross-court forehand.
It isn't often that Djokovic loses seven games in a row, but even at 0-3 in the second it seemed that he might turn it around. That's one of the dividends of playing with the kind of confidence and projecting the aura Nole has had for a year now. He played a rock solid game to hold for 1-3, but Murray wasn't having any of it. He started the next game with two aces and won it at 15.
Djokovic would have one more chance, when Murray lost the plot, as well as his first serve, and gave up a break to put the match back on serve at 5-4. But Djokovic's resolve lasted for just one more game. Although held with authority, Murray then puffed up his chest and hit three service winners and an ace to reclaim the lead. He then pinned an error-prone Djokovic down, 15-40, and converted his first match point as Djokovic made a forehand error off Murray's service return.
Stat of the match: Murray won 85 percent of his first-serve points. I can't tell you how many unforced errors Djokovic made because they don't keep that critical stat in Dubai. But it was a load.