By Michael Stafford-Jones

  • Andy Murray [2] def. Gilles Simon 6-4 6-3
  • Roberto Bautista Agut [15] def. Novak Djokovic [1] 6-4 6-4
  • Murray faces Bautista Agut for third time, leads head-to-head 2-0
SHANGHAI, CHINA – Andy Murray overcame a stern challenge from Gilles Simon to reach his second-consecutive final in Asia, where he will face Roberto Bautista-Agut, who upset Novak Djokovic.

 

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Andy Murray [2] def. Gilles Simon 6-4 6-3

Murray put on another excellent display to beat Simon in a high-quality semi-final encounter full of pulsating rallies and clever shots. Victory takes him closer to Novak Djokovic in the rankings, after the Serb surprisingly lost 6-4 6-4 to 15th seed Roberto Bautista Agut earlier in the day.

The Frenchman started strongest, breaking the Brit in the opening game of the match after playing an excellent, Murray-esque point at 30-30. He dragged the world number two all around the court before expertly passing him when he came into the net. Murray then netted a backhand to hand Simon the break at the first opportunity.

But the Brit hit back immediately, winning three excellent long rallies in a row on the Frenchman’s serve to restore parity. He then forged ahead by breaking Simon again in game six courtesy of superb combination of forehands – one was whipped to the Frenchman’s right, then the next was spun away to his left and he could not retrieve it.

If anyone watching thought the set was virtually over at that point, they were soon proved wrong as Murray played a disastrous game to drop his serve to love courtesy of three unforced errors and a double fault. The run of breaks continued as both players produced some stunning groundstrokes to make the score 5-4 to the Brit.

And the world number two sealed the set by breaking Simon again – the fifth consecutive break of serve in the match – thanks to some excellent deep groundstrokes and then a brilliant backhand lob winner, which he hit as he was running back, to finish it.

The second set hinged on the second game, when the Frenchman was serving. Murray came up with a series of amazing shots – a whipped forehand winner, a stinging BH down the line and a stunning cross-court forehand – but Simon dug in, saved four break points and made the Brit work very hard for his eventual break.

Three routine holds followed for the first time in the match before Murray stepped up his intensity and dominated a Simon service game to make it 5-1. But the Brit played a loose game when serving for it and the Frenchman hustled well to break and keep the match alive. Simon was then very aggressive as he held serve, advancing inside the baseline repeatedly to pummel balls out of his opponent’s reach. However, the comeback ended there, as Murray produced a solid service game and secured victory with two big serves in succession.

 

Andy Murray [2] v Roberto Bautista Agut [15] H2H: 2-0

Murray has a fantastic chance to move even closer to Djokovic at the top of the ATP rankings in the Shanghai final. But the Brit could be in for a very difficult match against Bautista Agut when you consider who the Spaniard has beaten this week to reach his first-ever Masters 1000 final.

Tomic in round one could have been tricky but Bautista Agut was well in control when the Australian retired. Then the Spaniard beat Rafael Nadal’s conqueror Victor Troicki in round three and 9th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-final, before his famous win over Djokovic in the last four. And what makes his achievement even more impressive is that he achieved all these wins without dropping a set.

So what can Murray expect from the Spaniard? If he plays well, then Bautista Agut tends to make very few errors, can hit the ball hard and deep with both his forehand and backhand and is decent at the net. He also moves really well and has a reliable serve, and all of these elements have combined to make him one of the most consistent tennis players in the world.

The Spaniard will have nothing to lose in the final either as the Brit is a heavy favourite for the match. Murray is arguably playing the best tennis of his life at the moment and has a chance to win back-to-back tournaments without dropping a single set. He stormed through the Beijing draw last week, then continued his stunning run in Shanghai as he dismantled Steve Johnson and Lucas Pouille, then outplayed in-form duo David Goffin and Simon to reach the title clash.

Murray is highly likely to win again tomorrow and take home the Shanghai Masters trophy, as long as he plays close to his best. Bautista Agut is having the best week of his career and must not be taken lightly. If the Brit’s level drops, he could take a set, and if he has a nightmare day, the Spaniard is capable of an upset. But if Murray performs close to the level he has been producing lately, he should claim a straight-sets victory.

Prediction: Murray in straight sets

 

The Shanghai Masters final between Murray and Bautista Agut is scheduled to start at 9.30am UK time.

 

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