By Ros Satar at the ATP World Tour Finals, in London
- Andy Murray  def. Kei Nishikori  6-7(9) 6-4 6-4
- Stan Wawrinka  def. Marin Cilic  7-6(3) 7-6(3)
LONDON, ENGLAND – The battle of the winners almost turned into a war of attrition as Andy Murray made it tough going to get past Kei Nishikori in a tense three-setter.
Andy Murray  def. Kei Nishikori  6-7(9) 6-4 6-4
Given how Kei Nishikori had started against Stan Wawrinka, it was not surprising that Andy Murray looked frustrated with himself at practice earlier in the day with serves stubbornly refusing to get over the net.
While Nishikori seemed to have picked up where he left off on Monday, Murray returned to full muttering mode as the Japanese player was the one bringing up the break point opportunities and making Murray toil over a couple of lengthy service games.
It looked like his reprieve had come at the hands of some sloppy errors from Nishikori, but inspiration was quick to return saving a set point before forcing a tie-break for the set. With Murray sarcastically now fist-pumping his own unforced errors, the tie-break was an equally tense affair – as he became more agitated with his box, Nishikori eased ahead to within three set points.
It was his turn to get tight as Murray claimed back two of them. A lightning whipped cross-court backhand and a dream pick up for a passing-shot winner erased that advantage completely – leaving Nishikori bent double in disbelief. A fourth set point came and went for Nishikori, a second for Murray and so it wound on, and perhaps it was fitting that it was a wayward forehand wide that handed Nishikori the first set.
Not surprisingly after such an epic first set, Nishikori seemed a little sluggish at the start of the second set, with Murray taking full advantage to open up a break advantage.
Even when Nishikori regained a little of his rhythm and broke Murray, the Brit responded by breaking straight back, but we were beginning to stray back onto Nishikori’s danger zone. The Japanese player was getting a new lease of life, and was putting pressure back on Murray, threatening to break once more to break level. Some wayward shot-making from Nishikori finally yielded the second set on his third set point.
With both players looking extremely weary, the one-set shootout continued, Murray looking marginally more sprightly and rewarded with a break before the first change of ends.
With Nishikori advancing and, it is fair to say, repeatedly trying to get some joy out of a drop-shot (clue: it was not working), Murray looked frustrated in the next service game as he tried to consolidate, forced into another gruellingly long game.
Murray was beginning to wear his man down, opening up a double break cushion as they were rapidly approaching the three hour mark. Even so there was still some drama to come, with Murray broken while serving for the match.
Suddenly what had looked like an impenetrable 5-1 lead in the decider had been whittled back to a 5-4 with Murray talking another shake at serving out for the match.
Where Nishikori had been resolute in the past two games, suddenly his racquet had a mind of its own. A final error from Nishikori and Murray booked his spot in the semi-finals after three hours and 20 minutes of hard graft – the longest best of three set match at the ATP World Tour Finals.
An understandably dejected Nishikori still has a chance to qualify, as he explained: “I know it was close. I mean, definitely disappointed. But there’s much is coming into this, so try to be ready for that.
“Think it was great match, both of us. Also for me, played really consistent, playing with good energy. I’m sure he’s going to qualify for the group. I try to aim for the second spot.”
There was no doubt either in Murray’s mind that this was going to be a tough match to recover from, admiting that despite his ice bath straight after the match he anticipated feeling it tomorrow, and a day’s rest would be most welcome.
He explained, of the match: “The first set, beginning part of the second set, he was dictating almost all of the rallies. There wasn’t any quick points on his serve. There was a lot of rallies one after another.
“Often on a surface like this, you’ll play some quicker points where you maybe get aced or don’t make returns. But it was kind of every point there was rallies, and you’re having to play four, five shots. It’s tough. Like you say, he does move the ball around extremely well, better than anyone maybe.
“It was physically tough. Thankfully I was getting quite a few free points on my own serve, which helped. It wasn’t easy because I wasn’t able to dictate many of the points, it felt. More so in the third set I was able to. But not in the first couple sets. I was having to run, fight, get as many balls back as I could.”
There has been a lot made of Novak Djokovic’s emotional state given some of his results since achieving a career Grand Slam, prompting him to comment that he is not the only player to show his frustration on court. For Murray it was a lot of self-sarcasm, fist-pumping and smiling after unforced errors.
He said: “I think it’s just more frustration. I didn’t feel like I was hitting the ball as well as I
would have liked. You know, like I said, he was dictating so many of the points. For me it was frustrating.
“Didn’t matter whether I tried to hit the ball a bit harder, adjusted sort of my position on the court, nothing was sort of making me hit the ball cleaner. As the match went on, I was getting kind of frustrated, then becoming like sarcastic with myself that I couldn’t seem to hit the ball as clean as I wanted to. Yeah, I don’t often do that, but today I was definitely being more sarcastic towards myself than usual.”
Stan Wawrinka  def. Marin Cilic  7-6(3) 7-6(3)
Wawrinka, who had looked lacklustre and struggling with conditioning against Nishikori, seemed to have perked up and found his form. The Swiss No. 1 hung touch with big-hitting Croatian Marin Cilic, to beat him in straight sets effectively ending his bid.
It will be another ‘Winner Takes All’ scenario therefore when he faces Murray in the last of the Round Robin matches – the Brit will have to win to avoid facing Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals.
Nishikori will face Cilic in a bid to gain the second place.
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