Rome Masters victory is icing on cake for Andy Murray
There have been times in the last two years when beating Novak Djokovic has appeared to be an all but impossible challenge for Andy Murray, but the Scot's never-say-die attitude was finally rewarded.
His deserved 6-3 6-3 victory in the final of the Rome Masters was only his second over the World No.1 in their 14 meetings since the 2013 Wimbledon final.
Just seven days after his latest defeat to the Serb in the final of the Madrid Masters, Murray celebrated his 29th birthday in the best possible fashion by winning only the second clay-court Masters Series title of his career.
It was a triumph all the more commendable given that Murray has been dealing with the implications of the split from his coach, Amelie Mauresmo.
With the French Open starting in seven days, Murray will head to Paris as one of the favourites. This has been the best clay-court season of his career, his only defeats having come against Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of last month's Monte Carlo Masters and to Djokovic in Madrid.
Murray, whose mother Judy was here to watch the final, is only the second British man to have won this historic event, after Pat Hughes in 1931.
"Some of the best players of all time have won this event," Murray said. "I'm very proud to have my name on the trophy."
Murray, who will return to No.2 in the world rankings, remained focused as Djokovic kept complaining that the damp court was unsafe.
Murray went 40-15 up when he served for the first set at 5-3. Djokovic saved a first set point but on the second Murray followed up a thunderous forehand with a drop shot winner.
When Djokovic served to stay in the match at 3-5 he went 15-40 down with a double fault. The Serb had an easy "kill" at the net, but Murray chased the ball down and hit a sensational winner.
"I know he didn't play his best," said Murray. "But there were still some tough moments. Last year I certainly didn't think I'd be winning a clay-court Masters Series multiple times."
Djokovic added: "I think he deserved to win and deserved to win the entire tournament."
Meanwhile, Serena Williams won her first title in nine months when she beat Madison Keys 7-6, 6-3 in the Italian Open final.