It was not pretty at times, but Andy Murray overcame a rough start to defeat Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-2 in the final to become the first Brit to win the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday night.
The world No1 needed just 73 minutes to dismiss his Spanish opponent, who had given Murray trouble in the past but was nowhere near his best on Saturday.
Playing his seventh final in his last eight tournaments, Murray dropped just five points on his first serve and only eight on his second, against an error-prone Verdasco, who was contesting his biggest final since his runner-up finish in Acapulco in 2012.
“I played much better as the match went on. Obviously started a little bit slow,” said Murray after his win, that coincided with the tournament’s 25th anniversary.
“I was solid. I wasn’t afraid to sort of attack his forehand side. He’s got one of the best forehands, but I tried to move him around the court as much as I could.
“I defended pretty well, moved well, served a lot better as the match went on. It was obviously good to win the first tournament here.”
Murray had dropped serve just four times throughout the week heading into the final but he found himself down two break points in his opening service game against Verdasco. The top seed saved the first but netted a backhand to get broken.
The reaction was quick from the Scot who immediately went up 0-40 on the Verdasco serve and he drew level on a wild long forehand from the Spaniard.
Neither player seemed comfortable on serve and a Murray double fault gifted Verdasco two chances to break. All he needed was one and Verdasco was up a break again thanks to a wide drive forehand from his opponent.
Verdasco finally halted the break-fest as he slammed down just his sixth ace of the entire tournament to hold for 3-1.
Murray claimed his first service hold of the contest in game five then broke at love and cosolidated for 4-3.
Verdasco got into trouble in game eight, facing a break point after a string of errors and sent a forehand wide to get broken.
Murray got his hands on triple set point and converted on his first opportunity with a service winner to wrap up a 38-minute opening set.
The Brit sprinted to a drop shot and responded with interest to get two break points and broke for a 2-1 lead in the second with a routine forehand passing shot winner.
Verdasco almost checked out of the match as Murray held at love for 3-1.
Murray got a break point in the seventh game on a netted volley from Verdasco, who saved it with a 212km/hr ace, sending the crowd into mayhem.
“Relax!” the umpire told the crowd but it took them a while to settle down.
Murray broke two points later to put himself in the position to serve for the championship and the 29-year-old secured the title on a service winner.
“I think that obviously I had, if not the toughest opponent I can have in the final, one of them, for sure. He’s No1 in the world right now,” said a disappointed Verdasco, who is expected to re-enter the world’s top 30 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
“It was obviously a really difficult final to win, but I came trying everything and giving everything.”
Murray says he capitalised on the 33-year-old’s errors.
“He didn’t hit his forehand particularly well, you know, so I just kept going there, really. He made a lot of mistakes off that side,” said the Scot.
The win gave Murray his 45th career title and first in 2017. He is the fourth player this season to capture a trophy after saving a match point en route.
Murray had saved seven match points against Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarter-finals.
World No1 Andy Murray will face Fernando Verdasco in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final on Saturday.
The Scot faces the big-hitting Spaniard at 7pm, with the doubles final taking place at 5pm.
See the complete schedule below:
Andy Murray was described by Fernando Verdasco, the opponent he faces in Saturday night’s Dubai final, as a player who has “not just seven lives, but 700 lives”.
The Spaniard was referring to the seven match points Murray saved against Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarter-finals on Thursday and how the Scot has a relentless ability to fight back no matter the position he’s in during a match.
Verdasco knows all too well how tough Murray can be and although many of their previous 13 meetings have been close, it is the world No1 who has come out on top on 12 of those occasions.
“You know how is Andy. He has not seven lives; he has 700 lives. That’s why he’s No 1 in the world, of course,” said Verdasco on Friday after defeating Robin Haase in three sets.
Murray booked his place in his second career Dubai final with a 7-5, 6-1 success over No7 seed Lucas Pouille, who had concluded his quarter-final win over Evgeny Donskoy at 1:46am on Friday morning.
Both players were tired from their last-eight battles and it affected their performance last night, but it was Murray who benefited from a Pouille letdown in the second set to wrap up the contest in straight sets.
“I don’t think it was the best match. A lot of mistakes. You know, there was some good stuff in there, I think, middle and towards the end of the first set. But neither of us served well at the beginning,” explained Murray, whose best Dubai result was a runner-up finish to Roger Federer in 2012.
“He didn’t make hardly any first serves his first few service games, and I was struggling a bit there too. I think potentially matches yesterday had something to do with that, because I think sometimes, you know, if your legs are a little bit tired, you know, that the serve is one of the first things that goes.”
Murray saw an early 3-0 lead slip away when Pouille took four games on the trot to inch ahead.
But the French No7 seed lost his focus and he double-faulted to get broken the following game for 4-4.
Murray got his first set point in the 12th game but Pouille saved it with a great volley at the end of a 19-shot rally.
But the world No1 got his hands on another chance to close out the set and this time he converted with a backhand passing shot winner.
Murray broke Pouille in his first service game of the second set and cruised to a 4-0 lead. The top seed got triple match point three games later and moved into the final on his first opportunity.
It’s Murray’s second final in three tournaments contested this season having also reached the title decider in Doha in the opening week of the year (lost it to Djokovic).
“Obviously it would be nice to pick up a win tomorrow, keep the momentum going into Indian Wells and Miami, which is, you know, a couple of tournaments where, you know, especially Indian Wells, I really want to try and have a good run there. It’s one of The Masters Series I haven’t done well at over the years. Really want to make sure that I do well there this year,” said the 29-year-old.
Verdasco entered his biggest final since finishing as runner-up in Acapulco in 2012, by defeating Haase 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-1 in the semis on Friday.
The Spaniard will be targeting an eighth ATP trophy, and his first at a 500-level tournament since Barcelona in 2010. He also had a solid run in Doha in January, where he made the semis and held five match points against Djokovic before he lost.
Progress for Pouille
Pouille was trying to reach a second final in as many weeks – was runner-up in Marseille last Sunday – but admits Murray proved once again too strong for him. The 23-year-old Dubai resident is now 0-4 against Murray head-to-head.
“I think I was playing good tennis for an hour and 15 minutes before I got too frustrated and lost my mind a little bit,” confessed Pouille.
The world No15 is pleased with his performance nonetheless these past couple of weeks.
“I’m kind of happy, because this is the first time that I win six matches in a row against players lower ranked than me. And, I mean, that’s good. That proves to me that I am now a better player with more consistency.
“And, yeah, I mean, playing indoor last week, coming here without playing any minutes on court outdoor and winning the first match, second and third match, I mean, was good.
“So now I can think about Indian Wells and the next tournament and hope to get some good result there.”