Novak Djokovic drew first blood in the battle for the number one ranking with Andy Murray after beating the Scot in three sets to win his first ATP title of the season at the Qatar Open on Saturday (7 January).
The Serb, who was the world number one for over 200 weeks, was toppled by Murray in November last year during the Paris Masters and was struggling for form in the second half of the season having won just one title since his triumph at Roland Garros in May.
Djokovic looked favourite to win his first title of the season after he took the first set 6-3 and held a break in the second set. But Murray was in no mood to throw in the towel and saved three championship points in the tenth game of the second set to break the Serb's serve and draw level in the game. The world number two, however, did not let Murray's comeback disrupt his game and took the third set 6-4 to complete his title defence.
"It means a lot. For the last three months of 2016, I haven't felt that confident on court and didn't play that consistent. But to start 2017 with a win over the world number one and my biggest rival was a dream start so I'm hoping I can get the best out of it. I feel confident again," Djokovic said after the match, as quoted by tennisworldusa.org.
Murray will remain the world number one despite his loss in Doha, but the Serb can retake the top spot if he wins at the Australian Open which begins on 16 January, and if Murray is knocked out before the semi-finals. However if both players display the same form they did during an entertaining final on Saturday, it is likely that they will be the final two standing come 29 January.
"It was close, a very physical battle. All the way to the last shot, you never know with Andy. It's no strange occurrence for us to play three sets for three hours. It's only the beginning of the season, so we had a little laugh at the net actually about it. We both felt like if every match we're going to play against each other is going to be this way this season, we're going to have a fun time," the world number two added.
Murray was on a 29-game winning streak before his loss to Djokovic in Saturday's final, and the Scot was disappointed not to make it six ATP tournament wins in a row. Despite the loss, the 29-year-old believes it was a good physical test heading into the first Grand Slam of the season, and believes he still has a chance of putting in a good performance at Melbourne.
"I am obviously disappointed not to win tonight, but I played pretty good the last couple of the matches. I think physically it was a good test to start the year, and I did good there. My body feels all right just now, so that's positive. It was a little bit sore earlier in the week after the first couple of the matches. Felt better each day. I still think I have a chance of winning the Australian Open after tonight," Murray said after his loss in the final.