World number three Andy Murray completed a successful defence of his Brisbane International title with a straight-sets victory over Grigor Dimitrov at Pat Rafter Arena.
Murray triumphed 7-6 (7-0), 6-4, although the scoreline perhaps did not indicate the thorough examination of the US Open and Olympic champion carried out by the 48th-ranked Dimitrov.
The 21-year-old Bulgarian served notice he is a star of the future, breaking Murray’s serve in each set, but the experience of the Scot told when it counted and he proceeded to collect his 25th career title.
Murray will no doubt be pleased to have the Roy Emerson Trophy in his possession again, but it was hardly a convincing performance.
His seven aces were balanced with four double faults, his second serve often proving to be a weakness during the match.
Nevertheless, he is confident enough about his chances at the Australian Open, especially since he will arrive at Melbourne Park with a victory at a major under his belt.
“I do feel more relaxed one week out from a slam than previously, that’s for sure,” Murray said.
While there is rustiness to be removed from Murray’s game prior to the season’s opening major, credit must be given to Dimitrov for testing his opponent.
The 21-year-old was contesting his first ATP World Tour final and he displayed a powerful all-court game throughout the tournament.
Murray noted the improvement in Dimitrov’s game since they last met in 2011, highlighting his ability to “play a lot of different shots”.
“He has a lot of variety,” Murray said.
“He seems a bit stronger since I last played him ... and he seemed to enjoy the occasion.”
Dimitrov led the men’s draw for aces heading into the final and his confidence in his serve was on show when he won the opening game of the tournament decider.
A key moment of the first set followed in the next game when Dimitrov broke the Murray serve to lead 2-0, with two clean forehand winners illustrating the strength of his ground strokes.
His single-handed backhand also has the potential to become a weapon, while his work at the net on both the volley and smash was impressive, considering he is most at home on the baseline.
I do feel more relaxed one week out from a slam than previously, that’s for sure.
Dimitrov won his next service game for a 3-0 advantage before Murray finally got on the board to establish a pattern of games going on serve.
Leading 5-3, Dimitrov served for the set but the pressure exerted by Murray and some rash shot-making from his counterpart saw the latter earn two break points.
He converted on the second and set up a 5-5 scoreline by winning his service game, although Dimitrov did not concede any free points.
He fought back from 15-40 and saved game point on four occasions before Murray finally held serve amid great frustration.
Dimitrov moved ahead 6-5 in the next game prior to having a set point on the Murray serve, but the tournament’s top seed again found enough to hold and force the tie-break.
The saved set point seemed to inspire Murray, who sent down a thundering ace to close out the tie-break in emphatic fashion, winning 7-0.
The second set began in unremarkable fashion with games going on serve until the seventh.
Murray saved two break points before Dimitrov converted on his third to lead 4-3 but the score was level again the following game.
Dimitrov had led 30-0 on his serve prior to Murray reeling off four consecutive points to break with a brilliant passing shot.
He then served to love to lead 5-4 and the momentum he had quickly gained saw him again break Dimitrov to clinch the victory.