LONDON (AP) — In what is shaping up to be the new top rivalry in tennis, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray whacked the bounce out of the ball for three more grueling sets Wednesday at the ATP finals.
The top-ranked Serb got the big break when he needed it late in the third set and held off Murray 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 at the O2 Arena.
“Another great match. Another great performance from both of us,” said Djokovic, who has known Murray since they were 11 years old. “I didn’t expect anything less, other than a tough match that went down the wire and was decided in the last point.”
Despite the win, Djokovic still hasn’t advanced to the semifinals at the season-ending tournament for the top eight players in the world. But he can make it through if Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeats Tomas Berdych in the other Group B match later Wednesday.
Djokovic is now 4-3 against Murray in 2012, with his biggest win coming in a five-setter in the Australian Open semifinals. But Murray had won two of the previous three, including in the semifinals of the Olympics and in the U.S. Open final — another five-setter.
Overall, Djokovic now leads the third-ranked Murray 10-7 in head-to-head meetings.
“I think both of us probably see each other’s games pretty well. Especially this year, because we’ve played so much,” Murray said. “But the one thing I would say is, this year I think both of us probably have seen things in each other’s games probably improve, and that’s why there’s a lot of long rallies, and the matches are incredibly tight.”
Murray looked unbeatable at the start Wednesday, breaking Djokovic in the first game and losing only three points on his serve in the first set.
“I don’t think I played bad in the first set. It was him playing really well, serving extremely well,” Djokovic said. “He lost only couple of points on his first serve throughout the whole set. So that says enough about his quality.”
But Djokovic was able to convert break chances in each of the next two sets, and then for a third time at 5-5 in the final set to serve out the match.
Djokovic still didn’t have an easy time as Murray quickly earned two break points in the final game. But a forehand smash and a service winner erased the danger before a pair of errors from Murray ended the match.
“The last two minutes of the match probably is what decided it,” Murray said. “He broke from 15-40, and then I had 15-40 next game and didn’t break. So that was the moment that decided the match.”
Murray has had a breakthrough season this year. He became the first British man since 1938 to reach the Wimbledon final, and soon after won the Olympic gold medal by beating Roger Federer on the same grass at the All England Club.
His biggest win, however, came in September when he became the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win a major tennis title with the victory over Djokovic at the U.S. Open.
Djokovic’s big year came in 2011, when he won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. But now they’re both major champions, and holding their own against Federer and Rafael Nadal, the two players who have had a monopoly of tennis rivalries for nearly a decade.
Now may be the time for them to step aside and let Djokovic and Murray reign supreme.
“Hopefully this rivalry will evolve,” Djokovic said, “and we can have many more great matches on the tour.”
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