Breaking News: Novak Djokovic is human. Carrying a 57-1 record into the final against Andy Murray at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, the seemingly invincible Serb had not lost a match since the semi-finals at Roland Garros. But the wear and tear of his remarkable season finally caught up with him on Sunday, as an ailing shoulder forced him to retire to an in-form Murray, who captured his second title of the season and seventh ATP Masters 1000 Shield with a 6-4, 3-0 win.
The Scot had rebounded from last week's dismal second round exit in Montreal, ploughing through the Cincinnati draw in a workmanlike manner without dropping a set.
But Djokovic would be a true test for Murray. While neither were able to bring their best games to the final, Murray showed his class by breaking the Serb in the first game. Djokovic eventually found his range, breaking back in the sixth game to level the match, and showing the form that has lent an aura of inevitability to his form this year. But Murray, always the game competitor, broke back immediately thanks to a jaw-dropping 42-shot rally that saw both men show off their incredible movement and shot-making.
Losing the rally seemed to break Djokovic's spirit, as Murray was able to secure the set and race to a 3-0 lead in the second. As rain droplets began to scatter Center Court, the ailing Serb, suffering from an undiagnosed shoulder injury, threw in the towel, giving Murray his second title in Cincinnati.
“I would have obviously liked to have won by finishing the match,” Murray said afterwards. “But it happens sometimes. You know, I have to look at the week as a whole. It's been a very good week. Coming in here I had played badly in Montréal, so I needed to have a good week.
A good week it was. Heading into Sunday's final, Murray, forced to play match after match under the scorching sun, successfully cast aside quality opponents such as David Nalbandian, Gilles Simon, and in the semi-finals, Olympus US Open Series Champion Mardy Fish, who had ousted a struggling Rafael Nadal a day earlier. The Scot, who has possibly peaked too early in the past during the North American hard court swing, seems to be on his way to finding his ideal form for the US Open.
“I think the conditions are similar [to the US Open]," Murray said. "It's normally pretty humid in New York and the courts are very similar to the ones here. So if you can get a few matches here and play well, it gives you good confidence going into the US Open.”
The last time Murray won Cincinnati in 2008 he went on to reach the US Open final, his first Grand Slam final. With Djokovic fatigued and Nadal and Federer struggling, he may have the chance to go one better this time around.
While Murray secured his title relatively easily, Maria Sharapova was forced to work for almost three hours to conquer former world No.1 Jelena Jankovic to win her second WTA Premier title of the season. While both women showed glimpses of brilliance, neither was able to bring their best at the same time, instead playing an error-strewn final that was more a test of resilience than tennis skill. But the battle itself was riveting, as the Russian, who was outplayed for much of the match by a resurgent Jankovic, was able to will herself to victory, prevailing 4-6, 7-6, 6-4.
“It's great to have a win under your belt going into a major," Sharapova said. "I played some good matches. I came here wanting to play matches and wanting to raise my level, and I think I did that.”
It was a solid week for Sharapova, upping her 2011 record in three-set matches to 11-0, secured the No.4 ranking going into New York, and vaulted to the No.1 spot in the Race to the WTA Year End Championships in Istanbul.
As the tours descend on Manhattan one thing is for sure: Andy Murray and Maria Sharapova are officially in the mix.