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Murray defends Qatar Open title

ANDY Murray down played talk that he's the favorite for the Australian Open after his successful defense of the Qatar Open title on Saturday.

No. 4-ranked Murray defeated No. 8 Andy Roddick 6-4, 6-2 to win the first ATP final of the year.

The Scot beat Roger Federer in the semifinals. He also defeated Federer and top-ranked Rafael Nadal last week in an exhibition in Abu Dhabi. With the Australian Open starting in Melbourne next Monday, Murray was heading toward the year's first Grand Slam with the best form.

"I feel good going into the Australian Open but after what happened last year I don't want to get too carried away," Murray said.

"I am one of the top guys but I don't know if I am the favorite at the Australian Open. There is Roger, Rafa and Novak (Djokovic), who won last year. I like playing in Melbourne but I did not play well last year."

A year ago, Murray lost in the first round to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who ran out of steam and lost in the final to Djokovic.

Yet again, he'll be in Australia as the Qatar champion, after a convincing win over Roddick for his ninth title in 14 finals.

Murray converted all three of his break points and, facing the only break chance Roddick had, he aced the American. Murray wasn't broken in the semifinals or final, and showed no sign of the back injury which bothered him against Federer.

Murray broke to go up 3-2 in the opening set, and twice more in the second for a 4-1 lead in Qatar's first all top-10 final since 1993.

"I am not close to my best tennis," Murray said. "But if I play my best tennis then I can beat the top players."

Roddick was impressed with Murray.

"He's in top form right now. ... I think he is capable of winning the big ones," Roddick said. "He was hitting great balls. But I am happy with my form. I made him beat me. I didn't give it away so easily."

Meanwhile, Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic came from a set down for a third consecutive match to beat Spain's Fernando Verdasco 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 yesterday and win the Brisbane International final for the first time in his career.

The eighth-seeded Stepanek claimed his third ATP career title and first since Los Angeles in 2007 in two hours, 13 minutes. He celebrated his win with a comical attempt at on-court break dancing before a capacity crowd of 5,500 at Pat Rafter Arena in Brisbane.

The third-seeded Verdasco, attempting to win his first title on a hard court, started off strongly. But Stepanek overcame early serving problems and then mixed up an array of deft drop shots and big forehands.

"I'm very happy with the way I played this week," Stepanek said. "I was fighting from the first to the very last point each match."

He said he has enjoyed using sneaky drop shots and chips to pressure opponents since he was a junior player.

"I just played a few today," Stepanek said. "When I was young I played drop shots every second rally.

"It was part of the game plan to get him out of the rhythm and to move him around the court and it worked quite well."


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