To Novak Djokovic the first blood in his ongoing war with Andy Murray which, on the evidence of a dramatic Qatar Open final, will again be the one that defines tennis over the next eleven months.

The 29 year-old Serb reversed their result of the 02 Arena on November 20 by winning the first final of the season 6-3 5-7 6-4 in just under three hours after a contest that crackled with quality and tension. So much so that Djokovic was given a point penalty for angrily smashing his racket in the second set, although he regained his control after that.

Playing way better than in London, not to mention Friday's semi-final which he should have lost to Fernando Verdasco, Djokovic deservedly edged it through a late shift in momentum. This being only a '250' status tournament it has precious little bearing on the battle for the number one ranking, but it will be a major psychological boost ahead of the Australian Open.

Murray did not play badly, far from it, and managed to save his sequence of breaking serve at least once in his last 112 matches when he saved three match points to get level for 5-5 in the second.


But he will be disappointed by the passages of play late in the first set and in the middle of the decider which turned the match against him. Losing his 28-match winning streak ahead of Australia might not prove to be the worst thing and his reaction at the end, all smiles at the net, suggested that.

Boris Becker, no longer in the coaching hot seat, had described Djokovic's performance against Murray at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals as his worst in the three years they worked together.

That was a more significant occasion than this one, but it was clear early on that the Serb - who may well have enjoyed being back as slight underdog - would not lack for being fired up against his old rival.

What was their 36th official meeting began with Murray being slightly in the ascendancy. After Djokovic needed treatment on a bleeding callous on the outside of his thumb in the second game the Scot created the first break point at 1-1, which was saved with a service winner.

Djokovic became frustrated not to create an opening in the sixth game, as he began to find his best tennis and forced Murray onto the back foot with his penetrating drives. His failure to make a breakthrough when Murray dropshotted him saw him angrily swipe a ball away and earn a warning from umpire Carlos Bernardes.

Murray looked comfortable enough at 3-4 and 40-15 when he missed an easy backhand for game point and followed it with three more errors that gave Djokovic the break, which he consolidated with a blinding forehand winner to take the set.

In nineteen matches the Scot had never come back to win against his rival after losing the first set.

With Djokovic's first serve landing in eighty per cent of the time Murray was finding it hard to make headway, but he forced a break point in the sixth game of the second, which was missed with a backhand.

The Serb, blowing hard, just about held on and the frustration showed in the next game when, on a second break point at 30-40, Murray sent a second serve long to be broken.

At 5-4 Djokovic was on the cusp of victory, but Murray hit out courageously and saved three match points, coming back from 0-30 when his opponent double faulted and finally getting level with an inside out forehand that clipped the sideline.

At 5-5 the Serb's temper snapped again when he lost the point at 30-30 and angrily smashed his racket into the ground, earning himself a point penalty from Bernardes and having to concede the game immediately.

Instead of firing the Serb up that appeared to subdue him momentarily, while Murray became inspired. In the next game he climbed all over the Djokovic second serve and on match point leant on a backhand drive into the corner which the world number two could only poke low into the net.

Djokovic was beginning to look distinctly weary but held off a Murray break point at 2-3 with an excellent first serve when he needed it.

That save again switched the momentum, and Murray put in a poor service game replete with unforced errors to be broken to love and go 3-4 down, from where a revitalised Serb was able to close it out.

This was not quite normal service resumed from the Djokovic point of view, but it will have made for a much happier long flight to Melbourne.