Novak Djokovic took home the 2017 Qatar ExxonMobil Open title on Saturday after he defeated Andy Murray 6-3, 5-7 6-4 to retain his crown at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha, Qatar.
It was hardly an easy run-in for Djokovic, but he was able to tame the comeback of Murray, who has now lost two (2007, 2016) and won two finals (2008, 2009) in this competition.
With the win, Nole also ended Murray's 28-match winning streak.
Murray came into Saturday's clash having defeated Djokovic in their previous meeting at the 2016 ATP World Tour Finals, a win that completed the best year of the Scot's career to date.
But the world No. 1 didn't get the start he would have wanted in Doha and was pinned on the back foot as Djokovic defended his opening serve, and ATP Media Info noted how critical the first set was to Murray's hopes:
ATP Media Info @ATPMediaInfo
When @DjokerNole wins 1st set vs @Andy_Murray, he's 19-0. #Djokovic also has 5 wins vs #Murray after losing 1st set. Pair has split 16 TBs.2017-1-7 15:13:05
Murray's approach play to the net helped him defend his own points, but Djokovic whipped out several splendid drop shots that the Scot couldn't contend with as the score trickled up to three games apiece.
Eurosport UK provided a look at some of the efforts that were bamboozling Murray, who didn't look quite his usual, limber self in attempting to get around the court at times:
Eurosport UK @Eurosport_UK
Djokovic gives Murray the runaround. #QatarOpen https://t.co/PCKmL80z1N2017-1-7 15:53:15
Djokovic then served to love to take a 4-3 lead, and the Serb proceeded to steal the match's first break of serve after a string of avoidable errors led Murray to offer his foe an opportunity he couldn't decline.
It was a backhand down the line that eventually sealed Djokovic's break to lead 5-3, but the set-sealing point was all about the forehand, as shown by Eurosport UK:
Eurosport UK @Eurosport_UK
Djokovic crushes forehand to clinch first set. #QatarOpen https://t.co/teeRXZbI6G2017-1-7 16:10:40
Murray immediately bounced back with his first serving game of the second set, but Djokovic proved relentless on his own serve, pulling the Scot this way and that across the court and testing his boundaries.
It turned out to be an effective tactic, but Murray was up to the task when returning the favour and led 2-1 after three games. Still, the tug-of-war raged on, and despite an accidental net shot delaying his plans, Djokovic was able to tie the score at 3-3 before a stumble saw the Serb hurt his ankle, per Live Tennis:
Thankfully for those in attendance, the knock didn't appear to have any detrimental effect on the standard of the spectacle, and Djokovic even showed signs of improvement after the impromptu disruption in play.
For the second time in the match, the world No. 2 broke Murray, who conceded an out-of-character double fault at precisely the wrong moment, and tennis writer Chris Goldsmith suggested that was the nail in the coffin:
Chris Goldsmith @TheTennisTalker
Djokovic breaks Murray and nearly all over...... 6-3 4-3 up in Doha2017-1-7 16:46:39
Murray's never-say-die attitude allowed him to climb back to 5-4 in the second set after Djokovic defended his next serving game, but the Scot took things a step further. Murray broke his foe for the first time in the match and drew level at five games apiece after saving three championship points, and his hopes lived on.
Djokovic might have ended the barnstormer there, but Murray prolonged the result and even went on to take a 6-5 lead after Djokovic smashed his racket in reaction to an overhit backhand, resulting in a penalty point:
Murray then closed out the set 7-5 to force a third and decisive set between the top-two tennis players in the world.
After three holds of serve each to begin the final set, Djokovic shifted the momentum in his favour significantly by breaking Murray at love to seize a 4-3 lead. He then consolidated with a hold to make it 5-3 and push Murray to the brink of defeat, much like he did during the second set.
Although Murray managed to hang in there with a hold to make it 5-4, Djokovic finally put away the No. 1 seed 6-4.
With a little more than a week remaining until the 2017 Australian Open gets under way, Saturday's triumph in Qatar was the ideal way for Djokovic to get back into the swing of things against stiff competition.
By all rights, we could see these two same players line up in the Melbourne final for a third year in succession and a fifth time overall, where Murray would have revenge firmly set in his sights.