Murray had twice won Majors with Soares, had reached No1 in the ranks, won the Davis Cup with brother Andy, and this summer knocked off one more first, a Masters title in Cincinnati.
If the duo could do it this time, it would make Murray the first British man to win the doubles trophy at the season finale. And Murray was optimistic ahead of the tournament:
“That’s our goal. We know we’re one the best teams in the world so when we turn up at a tournament, we always turn up with the intention to win. For me, that’s been exciting the last few years: to always feel like you’re competing for these big, big events. That’s what makes it fun. We’re not just here to make up the numbers.”
His optimism proved more than justified. They won all their round-robin matches to top their group, but now they faced a duo playing here for the first time, Mike Bryan and Jack Sock.
Not that the two Americans lacked either experience of quality. For while this was their first time together at the ATP Finals, Bryan and Sock had cut a swathe through the doubles tour since they joined forces just five months ago.
It was only in June that the Americans played their first match together at Queen’s after Bryan’s twin brother Bob was forced out of competition with an injury that required a steel hip replacement.
The 40-year-old Bryans have together won 16 Majors and four end-of-year titles, plus 38 Masters titles, so Mike had been there, done that, several times over. But Sock had a doubles Major to his name from Wimbledon in 2014, with Vasek Pospisil, and they had beaten the Bryan brothers to do it.
Now Sock, with Bryan, had picked up both the Wimbledon and US Open doubles titles this year—and Sock was actually at the O2 last year in the singles draw, and made the semi-finals.
So there was a strong incentive on both sides. Murray and Soares, with the home support of the O2 arena and seeking their first final, up against Sock and Bryan in probably their last tournament together, for Bryan’s brother was back in training—the twins would surely be reunited in their endeavours next season.
The Americans’ dynamic tennis—and they brought flair, power and showmanship to court—took early control of proceedings, though there was precious little between the teams. All it took was one break, and the Americans served out the set 6-3, in under half an hour.
The second set stayed with serve in the early stages, too, but the Sock/Bryan percentages were especially impressive: 11/12 first serves won, only four points in total dropped in the set thus far.
But the Brit/Brazilian duo got a look at a break in the eighth game with two great net interceptions, 0-30, and a superb 16-shot exchange between the four men at the net took it to 0-40 and three break points. Yet in the blink of an eye, Bryan had served the Americans out of trouble, four straight points, 4-4.
Murray and Soares got another bite of the cherry in the ninth, 15-40. They could not convert the first two, but at deuce, won the deciding point and the O2 erupted. The match was all square, 6-4.
The tie-break brought some scintillating tennis to bear from the Americans. They were quickly 4-1 up, and a magical forehand flick of a winner from Sock made it 6-2. Two holds of serve, 8-3, was followed by a bullet of an off-forehand winner from Sock, and it brought up match point.
The younger American, the only one on court dressed in bright red, leaped into the air for a winning smash, 10-4.
Murray and Soares’ hopes of a final at last were dashed once again, but they were beaten by some quite brilliant tennis from Sock and Bryan. Were it not that brother Bob was on his way back, this would be a winning partnership for many more months to come. They certainly look favourites for this title.
They will have to beat either Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert or Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah in tomorrow’s final. And not one of the teams has made the title match here before.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge