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16 May 2016, 07:05
Andy Murray celebrated his birthday in style by beating Novak Djokovic 6-3 6-3 in the Internazionali BNL d'Italia final in Rome.
Murray, turning 29 and the first Briton to win the Italian crown in the Open era, was in scintillating form against world number one Djokovic, who had won 12 of his 13 matches against the Scot since the 2013 Wimbledon final.
Four-time champion Djokovic was second best against Murray, who beat the Serb for the first time on clay and clinched his 12th ATP Masters 1000 title.
Murray needed less than an hour to overcome Frenchman Lucas Pouille in his semi-final on Saturday, while Djokovic required more than three hours to see off Japan's Kei Nishikori in a game which finished at 11.13pm local time.
Unsurprisingly Murray made the better start, forcing a trio of break chances in Djokovic's first service game that he was denied.
But with rain threatening at Foro Italico, Djokovic was off target with a backhand two games later and Murray, who returns to world number two, broke to take a 3-1 lead.
Djokovic beat Murray in last week's Madrid Open final to lead the pair's head-to-heads 23-9, but failed to adapt to the slippery conditions as well as his inspired opponent, who opened up a 5-2 lead before wrapping up the opening set 6-3 in 46 minutes with a brilliant forehand drop shot.
Murray fired 11 winners in the opening set and began the second in similar vein with the confidence to open up with his full repetiore of shot-making that had Djokovic, bidding for his 30th ATP Masters 1000 title, on the backfoot.
The British number one broke Djokovic again in the fifth game of the second set and a superb overhead backhand volley helped him hold serve in the next game to go 4-2 up and put one hand on the trophy.
Djokovic, who would have passed the 100million-mark in prize money with victory, looked weary after his late-night triumph against Nishikori and continually conveyed his displeasure at the conditions with several stares and expletive exchanges with the umpire.
He held serve to trail 4-3 in the decider, but was broken again by a rampant Murray, who claimed the second set 6-3 and completed the perfect preparation for next week's French Open, with an outrageous off-court passing shot.
"It's great. I played well this week,'' Murray told the ATP's YouTube page.
"I know Novak had a tough couple of days. His match with Rafa (Nadal) was a very tough physical match and (on Saturday) as well (against Nishikori) contributed a bit to today's result for sure.
"I'm aware I had to go out there and be patient and learn a little bit from the mistakes I made last week and I managed to get off to a slightly better start and that made a big difference.
"When you play against the best players in the world you go in knowing that you have to play great tennis to win.
"Sometimes you do and you don't win, they're that good. But today for me was great. I'll enjoy it, take a couple of days' rest now and obviously Paris is the one where I want to play my best tennis again.
"So I need to prepare well for that but in terms of the matches I've played the last few weeks through Monte Carlo through to now is as good as I've played on clay so I'm hoping for a good tournament there.''
When asked if the win gave him the confidence to dominate on all surfaces, Murray added: "Dominant - I don't know if that's the right word.
"I can certainly play well on all the surfaces. I think last year I proved that with the way I played on the clay and this year to back it up again.
"So I'm happy about that, but I still need to get better. I'm going to have to improve because guys like Novak play their best tennis always at the big events.
"If I want to win I'm going to have to continue to get better.''
The French Open, the second grand slam of the year, gets under way at Roland Garros next week.