Novak Djokovic has gotten off to a relatively slow start this year, but the world No. 2 is in the process of knocking his game into overdrive.
Don't let the fact that his victory over Andy Murray in the quarterfinals of the Sony Open was heavily assisted by a bad call fool you into thinking any differently.
Nole is 12-2 on the year, and he got his first tournament title of the year at Indian Wells in the last event. It is hard to knock that kind of start, but we've grown accustomed to Djokovic having multiple titles at this point of the year. This was the first time in four years he hasn't won the Australian Open.
Apparently, that does not mean he is headed for a down year, and the Serb asserted his dominance against Murray.
Djokovic beat the Scot, 7-5, 6-3. Djokovic took control of this match over the event's defending champion late in the first set after a bad call awarded Nole a crucial point.
Murray was serving while trailing 5-6. Djokovic came up to play a ball, and by all appearances he played the ball while it was on Murrray's side of the net, which should have meant it was Murray's point.
It is fairly obvious he is over:
In a quote captured by The Guardian, Murray had this to offer up to the chair umpire regarding the missed call: "You're having a laugh, you can see it on the replay. He [Djokovic] said his racket was over the net!"
In case the video wasn't enough, TennisTV made its case with this picture:
Djokovic left some wiggle room about being over the net in a post-match quote also passed along by The Guardian:
Look, it might be my mistake. I think I crossed the net with the racket. I didn’t touch the net. Maybe the rule is that you are not allowed to pass on his side with the racket. I’m not sure. You tell me.
Djokovic also addresses the point in question in the below post-match interview:
At any rate, Djokovic got to keep the point, and Murray unleashed a series of unforced errors to lose the set.
Murray certainly wasn't offering up the botched call as an excuse. The Guardian also passed along this quote from Murray: "I'm not angry. It maybe had a slight bearing on that game, but I was still up a break in the second set."
As Murray mentioned, he recovered to go up a break in the second, but Djokovic dominated to close. Nole won the last four games and the last 12 points of the match.
The result isn't overly shocking. Murray has not been at his best since returning from back surgery. Still, he is not getting blown off the court as he was in the second set against his longtime rival.
The botched call very well could have cost Murray the opening set, but it wasn't going to matter. Djokovic was just getting warmed up. In the second set, Djokovic won 50 percent of his first-return points and 53 percent of his second-return points.
Beating down opponents with his legendary return game is at the heart of Nole's blueprint for success, and it is going to lead him to winning this event.
Up next for Djokovic is No. 20 Kei Nishikori, and then a possible matchup with Rafael Nadal in the final. The world No. 1 faces No. 7 Tomas Berdych in his semifinal.
The way Djokovic is playing right now, not even Nadal will be able to stop him.
Stats via SonyOpenTennis.com.