Andy Murray said he had to cope with added pressure to claim his first clay-court win over Novak Djokovic – and with it the Italian Open title in Rome.
The Briton, who turned 29 on Sunday, beat the world number one 6-3 6-3.
It was Murray’s second Masters title on clay and his first win over 11-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic on the surface in five attempts.
“There was a bit more pressure than usual when I play against Novak coming into the match,” Murray told BBC Sport.
“He had an extremely tough semi-final and was coming in more tired. I was very fresh and I think the expectation was that it was a good opportunity for me.
“I’m glad I managed to win and it’s a great way to finish off my birthday.”
‘I was able to hang tough’
Since beating Djokovic to win Wimbledon in 2013, Murray had managed just one victory in 13 matches against the Serb before Sunday.
However, he controlled the final in Rome and held serve throughout, saving three break points with some attacking tennis as Djokovic fought back in the second set.
British winners in Rome
Andy Murray is the first British singles champion in Rome since Virginia Wade in 1971, and the first men’s singles winner there since George Patrick Hughes in 1931.
Murray said: “When he started to play better and raise his intensity, I was able to hang tough in those moments. I saved the break points well.
“I think I was patient but still hitting the ball with a good weight on it and not allowing him to dictate too much.”
‘Slams are extremely tough to win’
Murray won his first clay-court titles last year and has since accrued a 29-3 record on what used to be his weakest surface.
The Scot will now head to the French Open, which starts on Sunday, further established among a handful of leading contenders for the title that includes Djokovic and nine-time champion Rafael Nadal.
“It was nice for me to experience that last year, going in as one of the contenders at the French Open,” Murray said.
“It had never been the case really before. I’m hoping this year, having had the experience last year, it will help me.
“But the Slams are extremely tough to win. You’ve got to perform over two weeks, over five sets. Physically and mentally it’s more demanding than these weeks.”
Search begins for new coach
As well as preparing for the second Grand Slam of the season, Murray also hopes to make progress on finding a replacement for departed coach Amelie Mauresmo.
He believes it is unlikely anyone will be in place for Roland Garros but has targeted the week after Paris as a possible time to trial someone new.
In the meantime, Murray plans to rest and celebrate his birthday with his wife Kim and three-month-old daughter Sophia, who were with him in Rome.
“My mum came over, my wife’s here and obviously my team, so we’ll try to do something and get back to work on Tuesday or Wednesday.”