• What the Deuce

Stealing Murray's thunder

Jo Carter August 23, 2011
Novak Djokovic's retirement took the sheen off Andy Murray's win © Getty Images

The scoreboard read 6-4 3-0. Andy Murray was just three games away from his second title of the season, and was poised to subject world No. 1 Novak Djokovic to only his second defeat of the year, when his opponent threw in the towel.

It should have been Murray's moment in the spotlight, as the Scot reclaimed the title he last won in 2008, when he beat Djokovic in the final three years ago. But instead, all the focus was on Djokovic and his shoulder injury.

To further add to the irony, Murray was forced to wait to receive his trophy as the heavens opened just moments after Djokovic had offered his hand.

Granted, Murray still has another trophy to add to his mantelpiece and another $496,000 in the bank, but there is no doubt Djokovic's retirement took the sheen off an impressive performance from the Scot.

All talk after the match was of Djokovic's injury and whether he would be fit for the US Open. It remains to be seen just how serious the injury is, and while fitness remains every player's No. 1 priority (especially the week before a slam), the real cynics will see Djokovic's retirement as gamesmanship.

Never before this season has Djokovic been so comprehensively outplayed. He was clearly suffering with his serve, and he admitted after the match that he was struggling to hit forehands, but the timing of his decision was questionable.

If he was seriously concerned about the injury hampering his US Open chances, Djokovic should have called it quits after receiving treatment at the end of the first set. If by playing on, Djokovic felt he was aggravating the injury, he should have retired earlier; if not three more games would not have done much damage.

It was only his second defeat of the year, yet by bringing a premature end to proceedings in Cincinnati, Djokovic succeeded in deflecting the attention away from his defeat and ensuring that he was still centre of attention.

It is not the first time the Serb has attracted criticism for untimely retirements. We haven't seen a glimpse of weakness in the super-human Djokovic of 2011, but the Nole of old had a bit of a history of it.

Andy Murray's victory in Cincinnati was the seventh Masters title of his career © Getty Images

After winning the opening set against Andy Roddick in their quarter-final at the 2009 Australian Open, Djokovic, the defending champion in Melbourne, called it quits after suffering with heat exhaustion. Roddick was leading 6-7(3) 6-4 6-2 2-1 at the time, and Djokovic drew criticism from Roger Federer for his decision to throw in the towel.

"It's happened before," Federer said. "He's not the guy who's never given up in his career. That's kind of disappointing to see when you got two top guys playing each other and you give up."

Murray refused to criticise Djokovic's decision to retire, claiming a niggle was inevitable given the number of matches the world No. 1 has played this season.

And perhaps Murray will have Djokovic to thank for drawing the attention away from the British No. 1. While Murray's odds will have been slashed as a result of his win, the focus on Djokovic could take the pressure off the Scot.

Despite suffering defeats to the likes of Donald Young, Alex Bogomolov Jnr and Kevin Anderson this season, Murray is learning to peak at the big events. He reached the final at the Australian Open, and backed it up with semi-final appearances at the French Open and Wimbledon, making 2011 one of his most consistent seasons based on grand slam results alone.

The last time Murray flew to New York with the Cincinnati title in his hand luggage, he went on to reach his first grand slam final, falling to Federer at Flushing Meadows. Murray described last week as the "perfect preparation" for the US Open, and he will hope he can translate his successes on the hard court in Ohio to grand slam glory in New York.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk