Novak Djokovic might not have been at his best the whole way in Miami, but you can’t say he wasn’t consistent. After beating David Ferrer in the quarterfinals 6-2, 7-6 (1) and Juan Monaco in the semis 6-0, 7-6 (5), the top seed completed his topsy-turvy trifecta today with a 6-1, 7-6 (4) win over Andy Murray for his third title at the Sony Ericsson Open.
In all three matches, Djokovic showed off some of his finest tennis in the opening set. But where he seemed to float through the first sets of his last two matches, this time he huffed and puffed before he blew Murray’s house down. After breaking Murray’s serve at 1-2, Djokovic first appeared to have a problem with a contact lens, and then appeared to have a more familiar problem with the heat and humidity. The result? He ran away with the set. Down a break point at 3-1, Djokovic hit his best first serve of the match to that stage and followed it with a swing volley winner. After that, the set was his, as Murray couldn’t find the range on his forehand and was left making flat-footed errors.
Before the match, Djokovic’s coach, Marian Vajda, said he was concerned that Novak had lost his focus during his last two matches. The concerns were warranted, because Djokovic again became less aggressive in the second set today. This time, though, it didn’t seem to be a loss of focus that hurt him, but an inability to convert break points that began to wear on him. Djokovic had a breaker in Murray’s first service game, two break points in his second service game, one in his third, and one more for good measure at 5-5. By the middle of the set, Novak was frustrated and, like Murray, making flat-footed errors.
But this is, as we’ve seen and I’ve written many times now, the Djokovic way in 2012—he cruises, he struggles, he huffs, he puffs, he finds his best when he needs it, he wins. Today it was his serve and forehand that lifted him when he needed a lift. Through the first set and a half, he had been content to get a high percentage of first serves in; at 2-3, 0-30 in the second, though, Djokovic came up with an ace and a service winner. He also hit a double fault, but the calculated increase in risk paid off; Djokovic held. At 4-5 in the second, he went down 0-15, but again came up with a big serve and held. Ditto at 5-6, 0-15. Ditto at 3-2 in the tiebreaker. Ditto at 5-4 in the tiebreaker. On the last two, Djokovic followed those serves with two of his most aggressive forehands of the day. They were both winners. Underneath the agitation and the huffing and puffing, the confidence remains.
As for Murray, he was more risk-averse than he’d been when these two played in Melbourne. He was content to rally for much of the match, without trying to create or put himself in winning positions. It took him until very late, too late it would turn out, before he let loose with his forehand—a shot that he and his coach, Ivan Lendl, have been trying to beef up—and tried to dictate with it. Whether it was due to the three days off that he had after his walkover in the semis or not, Murray was flat and passive for much of this one, and served poorly—the two shots that helped Novak, the serve and forehand, weren't there for Murray. Even Murray's vaunted return game suffered, as he earned just two break points today.
What does this mean for the winner? Just as in Melbourne, Djokovic found a way to win. Here, he didn’t even drop a set, despite the concerns from his coach about his repeated loss of focus. Is this a sign that he remains as difficult to beat as ever, and that his A-game is always lurking, ready to be used when he needs it? Or is it a sign that he’s ripe for an upset one of these days by a hot opponent?
In the three biggest ATP events so far, Djokovic suffered the latter fate one time, to John Isner in Indian Wells, but he came through the other two times—when it comes to Slams, Masters, and Olympics in 2012, winning 66 percent of them is probably a record that Djokovic, or anyone else, would take. Now he moves into the clay season, and the heart of the season, with his status intact. He took a punch in Indian Wells, and got back up right away in Key Biscayne. Djokovic may not be winning every match this year, but he's still consistently the best.