On a day scheduled to feature six of the eight World Tour Finals qualifiers, the first blow came early as Novak Djokovic, carrying a shoulder problem since he arrived in Paris, withdrew from his match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
But with eight men down to seven and four matches down to three, attention quickly turned to another eagerly anticipated match: The meeting between Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych was always going to produce big tennis.
The powerful Czech already had a record for consistency in Paris. He won the title at his first attemptâ€”aged just 20â€”in 2005 and this was his third quarter-final appearance. He won the title in Beijing last month and, this week in Paris, he confirmed his place at the WTFs and reached his first 50-wins-in-a-season benchmark.
And if that was not enough to fill the Berdych head with confidence, he held a winning head-to-head over Murrayâ€”though the most recent of them was on the clay of Roland Garros last year.
A lot of water has gone under the Murray bridge since that summertime Paris meeting, however. This year, he reached the semis of every Grand Slam, won two Masters and came to Paris with three back-to-back titles to his nameâ€”a 17-match-winning streak.
Not surprisingly, this success had suffused the Scot with confidence. In demeanour he seemed relaxed and happy, in game he was full of bounce and aggression. He looked every inch the world No3 who had overtaken Roger Federer in the rankings for the first time.
So Murrayâ€™s expected meeting with Federer in the semis was already billedâ€”in theory at leastâ€”as the match of the tournament. As it is, Murrayâ€™s quarter-final will almost certainly take that accolade.
Berdych began the stronger as Murray fended off three break points on his opening serve. He held with his first winner of the match, the cross-court angled forehand that had proved so devastating in beating Roddick in the third round.
Come the seventh game, Murray worked two break points of his own and took the second with a deft drop-shot-passing-shot combo.
Berdych quickly responded with his huge trademark forehand to earn two break chances but Murray showed equal aggression in saving them. Then serving at 3-5, Berdych had to defend multiple break points as Murray piled on more pressure in some searing forehand exchanges.
With each lost opportunity, Murray gave a wry smile. Though unable to make the second break-through, he looked every inch the dominant player.
Berdych pulled off smash after confident smash through seven break points and 15 minutes, but despite taking the attack to the Murray serve, the Scot took the first set as he took the first game, with a stunning cross-court forehand: 6-4.
Already it was clear that the Berdych tactics favoured outright attack. He won 14 out of 20 net points in the first set, a tally that continued to grow throughout the match, and his baseline hitting became more powerful with each game.
The combination was enough to break Murrayâ€™s opening service game at the third attempt. Serving at 0-3, Murray faced three more break points, but he held off the attack to stay with Berdych.
After a near-perfect performance, the Czech served for the set, only to concede two break points and, despite bold play from Berdych, Murray levelled. It seemed fitting that the unstoppable force and the immovable object should contest a tie-break.
Berdych opened a 5-3 lead but Murray drew level. Berdych, though, did not waver, and delivered the killer blow with a huge smash. After 2hrs 20mins of gripping, high-quality tennis, they were all square.
In a match of seesawing chances and bruising hitting, Murray brought up the 23rd break point of the match on Berdychâ€™s opening serve in the third set. It was a similar storyâ€”two more break chancesâ€”on the next Berdych serve. Then came a decisive turning pointâ€”one that should not have broken the Murray concentration but did.
Berdych asked for three of the six new balls to be replaced as faulty, the umpire concurred, and Berdych saved the break points with an ace and a smash. Murray went on to hold his own serve but became involved in a lengthy exchange with the umpire at the 3-2 change-over, received a code violation warning and simmered on as the match edged to its climax.
Murray held off a Berdych onslaught in the seventh game, all the while talking to himselfâ€”a dramatic contrast with the relaxed and smiling Murray of the first two sets. And it seemed to give Berdych an even greater edge.
With the match balanced at 4-4 and 111 points apiece, Murray went 0-40 down on serve and, after precisely three hours, he conceded the break with a double fault.
There was one more flurry of excitement as the 10th game extended to 10 minutes via three break points, but Berdych closed out the match as he began it, aggressively, forcing match point from a big overhead winner.
So, with almost 200 minutes on the clock and the final 6-4 set to Berdych on the board, the superlative Murray autumn run came to an end. The silver lining, once he is reconciled to his fourth quarter-final exit in Paris, is that he has time to rest up and fine-tune his preparation for London.
As for Berdych, his was an impressive performance that, on the faster WTFs courts, will give every one of the other seven men pause for thought. His next opponent in Paris may be particularly concerned: The big-hitting Berdych game has caused Federer problems before. The Czech has beaten the Swiss in three of their last four meetings, most recently at Cincinnati this year in straight sets.
Federer beat Juan Monaco, who has enjoyed his best ever hard-court results this autumn, in a patchy one-and-a-half hours, 6-3, 7-5. There were 35 errors on the Federer side, 23 on Monacoâ€™s.
That it took the Swiss man to 800 match wins brought a smile to his faceâ€”and a quip that each one had added a grey hairâ€”but he will know that his game needs to be at its Gasquet-trouncing standard to resist the big Czech.
In the third and final match, the only unseeded player of the day, John Isner, beat David Ferrer, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. The tall American had never before reached a Masters quarter-final: Now he will take his place against the home favourite, Tsonga, in the semis.
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