It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty—in fact, at times it resembled torture, for the spectators as much as the grimly battling players. But Andy Murray will leave Miami having secured his ninth Masters title and the world No. 2 ranking after defeating David Ferrer, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1).
Murray had work for his victory, particularly because he was battling his own poor play as much as his resilient opponent. Two supremely gifted defensive players, a slow court, and humid conditions added up to a grueling war of attrition that had the famously fit Ferrer cramping and collapsing by the third-set tiebreaker.
Neither man played their best, either. Murray started off the match by plummeting to a 0-5 deficit against a brilliantly aggressive Ferrer, before the Spaniard’s level slowly sunk as the Scot clawed his way into the contest. The result was 95 unforced errors from the two players against just 37 winners. Sometimes statistics can make a match look a lot worse than it was, but despite the occasional brilliantly entertaining rally, this was not one of those times.
An early break for Murray at the beginning of the second set evaporated towards the end, helped on its way by a particularly cow-handed dropshot, before a cluster of backhand errors from Ferrer let Murray serve it out. It was something of a preview for the torturous momentum swings of the third set.
Murray’s serving was particularly poor today, but that in itself is not enough to explain the four occasions on which he earned a break lead, only to be immediately pegged back. The irrepressible Ferrer, who three times received treatment on his thighs during changeovers, was the first to hold serve in the final set, and when he did so for the second time—after Murray had failed to serve out the match in somewhat calamitous fashion—for 5-6, he had all the energy and momentum. With Murray stumbling, Ferrer earned a match point for his chance to do something none of his compatriots have: Take the Miami title.
Ultimately, we all got a chance to see the margin between victory and defeat: The portion of the line that Murray’s ball caught when Ferrer stopped the rally on his one and only match point to challenge. Helped out by Hawk-Eye to make it to the tiebreak, Murray took an immediate lead when Ferrer’s forehand bounced back from the netcord on his side, then produced a flawless forehand winner down the line for a 2-0 lead. He didn’t make a single error thereafter and, exhausted as he was, stayed on his feet and kept from cramping, reaping the rewards of his own Miami-based fitness regime—and the extra meters he had forced his opponent to run with corner-to-corner shotmaking during the second and third sets.
Unable to consistently outplay Ferrer today as he has done in some of their previous meetings, Murray still managed to outlast him. As I said before, it wasn’t pretty, but for Murray at least it was better than the alternative.