ATP World Tour Finals: Andy Murray knocks Stan Wawrinka out of London to top group
World number one Andy Murray reaches the semi-finals of the ATP World Tour Finals with victory over Stan Wawrinka
While everything looked rosy in the world of Novak Djokovic and Milos Raonic—both assured of their semi-final places at the season’s finale and with a full day’s rest to boot—life was altogether more tense for the three remaining hopefuls in the other group.
Andy Murray, who needs to exceed Djokovic in wins this week to ensure he retains the No1 ranking, won his first two matches. Yet he could only guarantee his place among the last four by winning at least one set against Stan Wawrinka.
But if he wanted to top his group, and thus avoid great rival Djokovic in the semis, he needed to win.
For in between a win or a loss for Murray, there were other permutations that could influence whether he came first or second in the John McEnroe group, permutations that depended on who won the last round-robin match of this year’s tournament between Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori.
The simple answer to remove all uncertainty, then, was a Murray win. His problem, of course, was that Wawrinka and Nishikori were just as determined to advance to the semi-finals of the most prestigious event of the ATP’s season as he was.
And while neither had quite as much on the line—the end-of-year No1 ranking for a start—both had incentives enough, aside from the not-insignificant points and prize money still on the line.
Like Murray, neither Wawrinka nor Nishikori had ever reached the final of this tournament, though all three men had made the semis here. And just as for Murray, rankings were at stake. Current No3 Wawrinka could give way to Nishikori or Raonic by the end of the tournament, and they would be career highs for both the Japanese and the Canadian.
The other factor to take into consideration was fatigue. Murray in particular had a lot of matches in his legs. He was on a 21-match winning streak, four straight titles, had accumulated 75 wins from 84 matches, and eight titles from 12 finals—all career bests. To cap it all, he and Nishikori fought through the longest three-set match in the history of the tournament, three hours 20 minutes.
In contrast, Wawrinka had come through his Cilic contest in under two hours, and had played a relatively light schedule since winning in New York.
Fans arriving at the O2 early would have caught both men going through their warm-up routines, and neither man was holding back: Game faces in place; sweat dripping from brows; high-profile coaches Ivan Lendl and Magnus Norman, looking on—and taking a few minutes to linger and watch the opposition.
In short, this 17th meeting between two of 2016’s Grand Slam champions was tough to call. Murray led the head-to-head 9-7, with Murray winning their only meeting this year at Roland Garros. But their previous three matches had gone to the Swiss, including right here in the round-robin stage last year.
He promised, then, to be a tough nut to crack. And in the first few games, Murray had to negotiate dangerous tennis as Wawrinka came out with all guns blazing, driving forehands through the court for winners apparently at will.
He opened with a love hold, and went 40-0 up in the third game, too, only for Murray to pull him back to deuce, three of them, before the Swiss held.
In these early goings, Wawrinka seemed to hit his groove the faster, and pummelled his way to 3-2, but Murray was living with the pace, beginning to defuse the power, stepping in to take the second serve, of which there was a growing number.
Come the seventh game, the pressure began to tell. Wawrinka over-hit a couple of forehands to offer up break point, and a netted backhand gave Murray the breakthrough, 4-3.
As if to press home the point, Murray held to love, and ran Wawrinka ragged in the next game as both tried to outgun the other. One break chance was followed by another courtesy of a brilliant cross-court forehand from Murray, but the Swiss came through three break points and four deuces to hold with his signature down-the-line backhand.
Wawrinka even worked a small opening in the 10th game, 0-30, but let out a roar of anguish as he netted another forehand, and Murray took the set, 6-4, to a raucous reception.
Indeed the whole match was vibrant with crowd support, but there was less for the Swiss fans to cheer with each passing game. In the first set Wawrinka produced 22 winners, in the second he could do no better than seven, and that was due in large part to Murray’s constant pressure. The Briton had not looked more focused all week, and increasingly he stepped in to take time away from the Swiss.
As is always the case, the Murray defence was outstanding, but he was also highly effective at the net, making 12 from 15 points there. He broke immediately, survived break point, and plied the court with chips and angles among big looping forehands onto the lines.
Even the net-cord seemed to be on his side, and he broke again for 4-0. A frustrated Wawrinka broke his racket across his knee and was duly warned by the umpire, but that was the least of his problems.
The Swiss wasted a break chance, outfoxed at the net by Murray, and did eventually hold—twice. However it never looked like being enough as his nerves frayed and Murray’s shoulders seemed to grow broader by the minute.
In under an hour and a half, the Briton had won, 6-2, as a concluding shank from Wawrinka, his 27th error, went flying.
So in one fell swoop, Murray confirmed the top spot in his group, knocked Wawrinka out of the tournament in favour of Nishikori, and deprived the Swiss of the No3 ranking.
Not a bad afternoon’s work, but he has plenty left to do come Saturday afternoon when he takes on Raonic for the sixth time this year. And though Murray has won all five meetings in 2016 thus far, Raonic took him to five sets at the Australian Open, three sets in the Queen’s final, and then three close sets in the Wimbledon final.
And as Murray pointed out after this match, the conditions are quick here, so will suit Raonic’s big game.
It so happens that Djokovic and Nishikori will also face off for the sixth time this year, in a similarly one-sided pattern to the Serb.
It is, then, looking increasingly as though the battle for No1 will go to the wire in the final match—winner takes all.