By Ros Satar, at the ATP World Tour Finals in London
- Kei Nishikori  def. Stan Wawrinka  6-2 6-3
- Andy Murray  def. Marin Cilic  63 62
LONDON, ENGLAND – World No. 1 Andy Murray began his campaign at the Barclays World Tour Finals easing past Marin Cilic, while Stan Wawrinka was stunned by Kei Nishikori.
Andy Murray  def. Marin Cilic  63 62
After an edgy five minute hold against a spirited Marin Cilic, Andy Murray quickly showed why he had risen to the top of the rankings, fending off two break points and then breaking Cilic himself for a quick lead. Yet it was light relief – a few sloppy shots from the Brit showed Cilic a chink of light to break back.
It has to be said, it was taking a little time for Murray to settle, with his first serve looking a little shaky at the start, but once Murray broke straight back, things started to settle into their groove pretty quickly.
What nerves were buzzing around in the first set very quickly exited stage left, as Murray looked a lot more commanding in the second set. Breaking for the lead, Murray never looked as though he would loosen his grip on an opening win.
Any hopes from Murray pre-tournament that the speedier court would yield shorter points was quickly dispelled with some lengthy and gruelling rallies with Cilic giving as good as he was getting from the baseline.
Cilic explained: I feel it’s a little bit faster than what I played two years ago. I think the ball is coming quite fast. It’s also not easy to just let your arm go from the rallies. You got a little bit to play it the right way.
“That’s why I think was today also difficult to find right decisions in the points, when to go, when not to go for the shots. Still adapting to it. But I think for everyone it’s quite a good surface.”
With a rousing reception to welcome him on court, Murray admitted with the end in sight for the season, it was proving to be good motivation, rather than nerves.
“It was a great reception obviously, a really good atmosphere tonight. Yeah, it was obviously nice to play in that stadium with the crowd like that. It obviously helps.
“After a long kind of few months, it’s nice to know that I’m going to be finishing the year, you know, playing in that sort of atmosphere. It helps you get up for the matches a bit more, as well.”
Players rarely seem to agree with the conditions. Before the tournament started, the consensus in general was that it felt a little quicker and perhaps more in keeping with the conditions in the European events leading up to this one. But with a capacity crowd (up to 17,800), the elements can feel quite different. tournament Murray had predicted shorter rallies and players coming in a lot more. So what changed?
“It’s just quite different conditions in there than what we’ve been practicing in during the week. It’s a lot slower than it has been. A lot of the players have said that that I’ve spoken to. I don’t know if it’s because of the humidity in there. Normally when it gets hotter, it tends to speed the ball up. But it felt much slower tonight than it had done during the week.”
The Round Robin stage can bring about its own challenges. On the one side, Cilic can take hope that with a couple of good performances he can still give himself a chance to qualify for the semi-finals. But by the same token, it takes a little mental capacity to get out of the mindset that you can afford to lose a match.
Murray explained: “I think it’s one of the things, you know, that can be tricky in a group stage, because you have that sort of feeling a little bit like you can afford lose a match, which is never really the case.”
Kei Nishikori  def. Stan Wawrinka  6-2 6-3
Despite Stan Wawrinka having the lead in their head to head, it had been a nip and tuck, but from the get-go, it was Kei Nishikori making all the moves. He put the reigning US Open champion under pressure from the start pulling up two break points before being rewarded with a break.
Using all his guile, angles and leaving Wawrinka, who has been struggling with a knee injury, looking flat-footed, Nishikori racked up a second break before confidently serving out the first set.
It looked a more competitive fist of it from the Swiss in the second set, but before long, Nishikori’s fleetness cost Wawrinka another break, with the final blow being delivered as Nishikori broke for the match to end a bad day at the office.
His service was on point, losing just 11 points behind his serve. Their head to head has largely has been quite even, as Nishikori closed the gap on his 2-4 deficit.
He said, after the match: “I felt very comfortable out there. Started very good, you know, from the first game. So I was very confident. I see that, you know, he wasn’t playing his best, and he was missing. A lot of unforced errors. I see a lot of opportunity today, so I try to be aggressive. Yeah, even second set, I stay really tough and played good match today.”
Wawrinka did not dwell on the injury he may be carrying, and still believes he has some good tennis left in him for the end of the year.
He said: “It was not a great match compared to what I can do, that’s for sure. Wasn’t a great day for myself. In general, I think he play well, put a lot of pressure from the beginning. Yeah, I don’t think I find anything on the court today. I was a little bit slow on everything. I was hesitating a lot with my game, my movement.”
Murray and Nishikori will play on Wednesday, 2pm with Wawrinka and Cilic at 8pm (all times GMT).
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