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Tense battle no surprise to Murray
There was no shortage of drama in the most eagerly-awaited clash of the group stages at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals but it was Novak Djokovic who edged out Andy Murray to put himself in the driving seat in Group A.
It was the seventh meeting between the pair this season and their rivalry is fast developing into the headline act on the ATP Tour, with the pair tied at three all. The Scot could not have started better here and played a near faultless first set but he could not sustain it and in the end a third-set comeback counted for nothing as Djokovic prevailed 4-6 6-3 7-5 in two hours and 34 minutes at London's O2 Arena.
Assessing his rivalry with the man he first played as a junior more than a decade ago, the 25-year-old said: "I think both of us probably see each other's games pretty well. Especially this year, because we've played so much."
He added: "You kind of know a little bit what to expect. I think that's why all the matches, especially the last few, have been so close and decided by a few points. The intensity of my matches with him have been extremely high this year.
"But the one thing I would say is this year I think both of us probably have seen things in each other's games improve and that's why there's a lot of long rallies and the matches are incredibly tight."
Murray was blistering in the first set, pushing Djokovic back with the ferocity of his forehand and dropping only three points on serve after breaking in the opening game following the kind of ding-dong rally for which the pair have become famous.
He was still in the ascendancy at the start of the second and had a chance in the third game, only for Djokovic to find the corner with a drive volley. Three games later the Serb created his first opening and took it when Murray chose to serve and volley and just missed the baseline.
"There are decisions you make in matches," he said afterwards. "If they come off, you get told you're a genius. If you miss them, then you're an idiot. That was just one of those ones that didn't work."
The momentum was with the world number one and he looked in total control in the decider when he twice had chances for a double break. But Murray dug in and pulled back to 4-4 only for Djokovic to break again and then save two more break points to serve it out.
"In about the last two minutes of the match probably is what decided it," said the Scot. "He broke from 15-40 and then I had 15-40 in the next game and didn't break."