Skupskis reach Moscow final; Murray in hunt for London berth

By Philip James

With Andy Murray out for the season and the ladies struggling for form, men’s doubles took the limelight in British tennis this week.

Fans disappointed by Andy’s announcement that he will miss the ATP World Tour Finals in London, may get to see older brother Jamie instead as aims for qualification.

Meanwhile in Moscow, compatriots Ken& Neal Skupski defeated one of Murray’s main rivals in a fabulous run to the final in Neal’s first ATP main tour event.

After a great first year playing together, Jamie Murray and Australia’s John Peers’ run of ATP 250 title, ATP 500 final and Masters semi-final in three weeks had put them well into contention.

The top eight doubles teams will play at the O2 in November and the race is tight, with only three teams already qualified with just two more tournaments left to score points.

That Thailand Open title in September coupled with the Japan Open final and Shanghai Masters semi in October moved Murray and Peers into 11th in the Emirates ATP doubles team ‘Race to London’ rankings.

That puts them above the all British team of Colin Fleming & Jonny Marray (17th) and Londoner Dom Inglot, who with Filipino Treat Huey is 13th.

Neither of those pairs played in this week’s tournaments in Moscow, Stockholm or Vienna, all of which were ATP 250 level.

Murray and Peers did choose to play in the Erste Bank Open in Austria and as fourth seeds were looking to continue their fine form.

The pair won their first round match in a deciding third set Champion’s Tie-break over Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Jan Hajek but lost to the wildcard Austrian pairing of Dominic Thiem and Maximilian Neuchrist in the quarter-final.

The 45 ranking points gained should be enough to move them inside the top 10 when the rankings are refreshed on Monday, with 10th placed Nenad Zimonjic and Julien Benneteau currently on the same points as Murray and Peers but not playing this week.

The all-Polish team of Mariusz Fyrstenberg & Marcin Matkowski narrowly missed out on the ATP World Tour Final last year and are again in the running, currently placed 8th, but they also surprisingly lost in quarters in Vienna.

Twelfth placed Santiago Gonzalez and Scott Lipsky will cut the gap to Murray and Peers as they reached the semis of the If Stockholm Open.

That tournament was won by 7th placed Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi & Jean-Julien Rojer and earning them 250 points which will go a long way to seeing them qualify for London.

Meanwhile, at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow, the Liverpudlian Skupski brothers helped Murray and Peers out by beating top seeds Horia Tecau and Max Mirnyi in the quarter-finals.

Mirnyi, who has several World Tour Finals appearances, and Tecau are 9th in the doubles race to London and were China Open Champions just two weeks ago.

Though they then lost in the first round of the Shanghai Masters to Inglot and Huey, Mirnyi and Tecau are one of Murray and Peers’ main rivals to reach the season finale at the O2.

Ken Skupski began the year ranked just outside the top 50, playing with regular doubles partner Jamie Delgado before the pair split as Delgado recovered from injury and Skupski became a father.

At this point brother Neal, seven years younger and without a singles or doubles ranking had partnered Ken in just one tournament; a UK Futures tournament in January which the pair had won.

When Ken returned to the tour the brothers teamed up again, winning an Italian Futures tournament before moving up to the Challenger tour where they have won four titles this year.

Though Ken’s ranking suffered due to playing in these lower-level tournaments, Neal’s rocketed up from outside the top 1000 up to his current ranking of 114, sufficiently high to qualify them for main ATP tour tournament together for the first time.

In their first match in Moscow, they showed they were not out of their depth by beating alternates Andrey Golubev and Horacio Zeballos in straight sets.

In the next round, they did what the teams of Benneteau & Zimonjic, Fleming & Marray and Fabio Fognini & Andreas Seppi had failed to do at the China Open; beat Mirnyi & Tecau.

The brothers took the first set on a tie-breaker before demolishing the top seeds 6-1 in the second set to reach the semis where they beat home-crowd favourites and wildcard entrants Victor Baluda and Konstantin Kravchuk 6-3 5-7 10-7 to reach the final.

There they faced another Russian, Mikhail Elgin playing with Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin and after dropping the first set 6-2, the Brits fought back to take second 6-1, meaning a deciding 10-point Champion’s Tie-break.

The teams exchanged mini-breaks throughout and though the Skupskis had several Championship points, Elgin and Istomin eventually snatched took the breaker 14-12 and with it the match and the title.

It was still a fantastic week for the British team with a bright future, and the resulting points should see Neal crack the top 100 on Monday.

 

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