Andy Murray had to trawl deep into the bottom of his energy reserves to outlast Japan’s Kei Nishikori 6-7(9) 6-4 6-4 in a monumental battle lasting more than three hours at the ATP World Tour Finals yesterday.
The new world number one looked in trouble when Nishikori edged an epic tiebreak to claim the opening set in 85 minutes, but hit back to avenge his quarter-final loss at the US Open, his last Tour level defeat before his astonishing 21-match winning streak.
Nishikori recovered from an early let-down in the second set and looked close to ending the Scot’s remarkable streak when he broke back for 4-4 and had a point for a 5-4 lead.
Despite looking weary, Murray broke again before levelling the match by holding his serve after saving two break points.
Even when Murray stormed 5-2 ahead in the decider there was still a twist as Nishikori mounted a final desperate assault, breaking Murray on a double-fault, but the Scot sealed victory at the second time of asking after three hours 20 minutes.
With two victories already in the bag in John McEnroe group, Murray looks poised to reach the semi-finals.
With Novak Djokovic, his rival to end the year as number one, already in the semi-finals, Murray could well have to win the Tour Finals for the first time if he is to keep hold of the top spot he took from Djokovic last week.
On Tuesday night, Djokovic rediscovered his warrior spirit to tame Canada’s Milos Raonic 7-6(6) 7-6(5) in a rivetting duel and book his place in the semi-finals.
The 29-year-old Serb’s recent malaise has cost him the world number one ranking he held for 122 weeks but when backed into a corner by an inspired Raonic, he responded in the belligerent manner that has earned him 12 grand slam titles.
World number four Raonic threw the kitchen sink at the elastic-limbed Serb for two hours and 14 minutes, striking 42 winners and 14 aces but Djokovic, aiming for a fifth consecutive title at the year-ender, was equal to everything – just.
Having edged a high-intensity first-set when Raonic double-faulted on set point in a tense tiebreak, Djokovic looked to have broken the shackles in the second to lead 4-2.
Raonic, who dialled up his mighty serve to speeds of 140mph, stormed back to rock Djokovic on his heels and came within a missed forehand of extending the match into a decider.
But Djokovic produced a magical backhand flick at 5-5 in the night’s second tiebreak, then an ace, before Raonic succumbed to an eighth successive defeat to the Serb when his backhand flew wide.
With two wins in the bag Djokovic is now assured of a semi-final spot although with 200 ranking points up for grabs in his final group match against Gael Monfils he will not be letting up.
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