ROME, May 15, (AFP): Britain’s Andy Murray celebrated his 29th birthday in style Sunday by winning his maiden Rome Masters title with a hard-fought win over disgruntled world number one Novak Djokovic.
Murray, the number two seed who suffered defeat to Djokovic in last week’s Masters final in Madrid, prevailed 6-3, 6-3 in one hour, 35 minutes.
From a total of 32 previous meetings it is only Murray’s 10th win over tennis’s man of the moment.
“Well done Andy, you did a great job today. You were just too good,” Djokovic said on court after the final.
It is only Murray’s third clay-court title, after his maiden victories on the red dirt in Munich and Madrid last year, but comes in timely fashion just two weeks before the start of the French Open at Roland Garros.
Murray, who cruised into the final with an easy semi-final win over French lucky loser Lucas Pouille early on Saturday, came into the match fresher after Djokovic was forced into a three-hour epic by Japan’s Kei Nishikori later on Saturday.
It was the third three-set match he had played leading up to the final, and amid the challenging circumstances of intermittent rain, it did not take long for nerves to fray.
Murray piled the pressure on from the start, earning a trio of break chances in Djokovic’s first service game.
Djokovic saved them all, but two games later Murray grabbed the first break of the match when he forced Djokovic into a backhand error for 3-1.
The slippery conditions were not to Djokovic’s liking and Murray, who had no complaints about the weather, tried to capitalise.
He won 16 of his first 19 service points, taking a 5-2 lead with an ace down the T, and then wrapped up the opener with a sublime forehand drop-shot winner to wrap up the set in 46 minutes.
Meanwhile, serena Williams claimed her fourth Italian Open crown in Rome on Sunday with a 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 defeat of American compatriot Madison Keys.
It was the first all-American WTA claycourt final since Williams beat her older sister Venus to win her maiden French Open title in 2002.
Williams, who pulled out injured from last year’s event when Russia’s Maria Sharapova triumphed, claimed her first trophy of the season and 70th overall.
In Sharapova’s absence, Williams claimed her 13th title on clay, the most of any active player on the WTA, to add to her previous wins from Rome in 2002, 2013 and 2014.
Keys, 21, is one of several emerging women players from the US and wowed the Rome crowd in a battling semi-final against Spanish third seed Garbine Muguruza.
She had conceded defeat to Williams on two previous occasions, at the last two Grand Slam events, the US and Australian US Opens.
On Sunday, the American started with conviction, breaking Williams in the opening game and taking the first set to a tiebreak.
But once Williams got into her stride, the 34-year-old American’s powerful serve and range of shots proved too much for the Keys.