Andy Murray sets out French Open credentials
Scot beats the world number one for only the second time in 14 meetings, but the timing could not be better
Andy Murray's conversion to clay continued on Sunday as he inflicted only the third defeat of the year on Novak Djokovic to claim the Rome Masters, a week ahead of the French Open.
It was only the second time the Scot had beaten the world number one in 14 matches since he won Wimbledon in 2013 and it installs him as a realistic tip for the title at Roland Garros.
Murray triumphed 6-3, 6-3 against a volatile Djokovic who was angry at the state of the court and afterwards moaned about the scheduling of matches.
It was an important win for Murray, says Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian. Had he lost yet again "he knows the questions about the Serb's dominance over him would have invaded every conversation between now and Roland Garros, where he lost a tight semi‑final against the world number one last year".
And the world number two "could take quiet comfort... because he kept his cool while the normally contained Serb came close to combustion on a surface they rightly considered hazardous".
Murray's conversion to clay court expert has been dramatic. He "used to view the European clay-court season as a segment of the year to endure rather than enthuse about", says Barry Flatman of The Times. "But after claiming his third title in two years on the surface... it is simple to understand his new-found enthusiasm for sliding over the crushed brick."
Murray won his first clay court title last year and in the past two years has a 29-3 record. It means he will travel to Paris for the French Open, which starts on Sunday, as "further established among a handful of leading contenders for the title that includes Djokovic and nine-time champion Rafael Nadal", says Piers Newbery of the BBC.
Victory was doubly sweet for Murray as it came on the occasion of his 29th birthday and he will take time off to celebrate before heading to Paris, he adds.
However, Murray is unlikely to have appointed a new coach before the French Open begins. He split with Amelie Mauresmo last week and will not trial a new coach until after the Paris tournament.