ROME • The clay that Andy Murray once viewed with suspicion has become his friend and, a week before the French Open, a straight-sets win against the best tennis player in the world, Novak Djokovic, was sweet indeed.
Had he not beaten Djokovic in his first Rome Masters final on Sunday - 6-3, 6-3, with crisp, powerful groundstrokes from deep and artful work near the net - he knows the questions about the Serb's dominance over him would have invaded every conversation between now and Roland Garros, where he lost a tight semi-final against the world No. 1 last year.
Murray could take quiet comfort also from only his second success in 14 matches since beating Djokovic in the 2013 Wimbledon final.
He kept his cool while the normally contained Serb came close to combustion on a surface they rightly considered hazardous.
The Argentinian chair umpire, Damian Steiner, would not budge, when, with Murray two games from victory, Djokovic gave vent to his frustrations on the changeover, begging Steiner to suspend play to clean up a court that had been steadily drizzled on.
As Djokovic said: "I didn't ask him to postpone the match. I asked to have a little break... to (let) people arrange the court.
"We played on a very, very heavy court because it was raining for an hour and it was very muddy behind the baseline. In three games I literally could have twisted my ankle two or three times."
Djokovic also exploded earlier in the second set. "These kind of matches are important for both players," he said. "There is a lot at stake. When you play a rival, and of course you want to win, sometimes you get too emotional.
"I threw a racket, it bounced over the fence and I got a warning instantly. So the chair umpire was on fire."
Murray, naturally, was not so wound up about all of this but he largely agreed with Djokovic.
"I didn't find it so much of a problem behind the baseline," the Scot, who ousted Roger Federer from the world No. 2 position with the win, said. "It was the lines that were the issue. They were extremely wet and you could see sometimes when the ball hits the line it just takes off.
"With the French (Open) starting in one week, if you get a problem (injury) it can really hamper your preparations and your chances of winning - so I can understand that."
However, this was Murray's day to celebrate one of his finest wins, which led to the third clay-court title of his career after victories in Munich and Madrid last year.
The Briton's powerful serve had Djokovic in trouble on more than one occasion and he showed progress in other areas as well.
"He's using the court better now," said Djokovic. "He has more variety in his shots from the baseline play, so obviously he did improve."
Murray would love to add the French Open to his red-dirt titles collection, on a surface that might just be kind to him in Paris.
"At the French Open, the conditions are also a bit quicker, which he likes," said Djokovic. "He's been consistently playing well (at Roland Garros), and I'm sure he's going to be very motivated to do well again."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE