Murray and Nishikori make winning returns as Race for London hots up

Andy Murray beats Somdev Devvarman in straight sets to reach the third round of the Shenzhen Open

andy murray
Andy Murray in action at the US Open last month Photo: Marianne Bevis

Of the four men in action during the first week of tennis’s Asian swing, three have high hopes of making the cut for the top eight men who will battle out the end-of-year crown at the World Tour Finals.

The most optimistic must be No6 in the race, Kei Nishikori, who is making his first appearance since reaching the final of the US Open. His breakthrough in New York certainly helped to bolster his year-end ambitions, as did his winning return to reach the quarters of the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur.

As the only remaining seed in the top half of the draw, he looks a shoo-in for a run to the final, too. Once there, if the seedings work out, he should meet the other man in the draw who has an outside chance for London, Ernests Gulbis. The Latvian, though, has a trickier route to the final, not least in the No29-ranked Julien Benneteau, who is a strong indoor contender.

So with Nishikori in Malaysia looking a strong possibility for the ATP World Tour Finals, the top two seeds at the new tournament in Shenzhen knew that they too needed to pick up some good points before the last qualifying tournament, the Paris Masters, which begins in a month’s time.

No7 in the race, David Ferrer, did not open in the way he would have wished: He lost in straight sets to Viktor Troicki. But the hard-working Spaniard has piled on valuable points in the post-Wimbledon stretch, reaching two finals that included the Cincinnati Masters.

And although Ferrer made, by his consistent standards, a disappointing run at the US Open, he has shown great mettle in the recent years when it comes to the indoor race to the O2. In 2012, he won his first Masters title in Paris, having picked up the 500 title on home soil in Valencia—and he reached the finals of the same two events last year.

All the more reason why Murray will be relieved to score his first win since losing to Novak Djokovic in the quarters of the US Open. The Briton won handily, as he should have done against the 141st player in the world, Somdev Devvarman, 6-3, 6-3. And while Murray’s quarter-final opponent, Lukas Lacko, should pose few problems, the semis will be an altogether different proposition.

Murray is scheduled to meet either Juan Monaco—who scored his 300th tour-level win to overcome No7 seed Vasek Pospisil in the second round—or No3 seed Richard Gasquet.

The Frenchman was actually a member of the elite eight in London last November, earning his place courtesy of Murray’s absence. But since then, he has slipped slowly down the rankings to fall out of he top 20 after his third-round exit at the US Open.

But that ranking belies a man of great talent who can be expected to bounce back, especially as the tour heads indoors. Three of the four titles he has won since 2010 have come indoors, and he reached the final of Montpellier earlier this year.

Remarkably for two men aged 28 and 30 who both turned pro in 2002, Gasquet and Monaco have never played one another before, even at Challenger or Futures level. It will be an intriguing match.

The good news for Murray, irrespective of who reaches the semis, is that even if he should fail to lift Shenzhen’s inaugural trophy, he ought to be feeling particularly confident about his chances for the remainder of his China campaign.

Murray missed the entire Asian swing last year as he recovered from back surgery, but he reached the final of the Shanghai Masters in the three previous years, winning it in 2010 and 2011—a year that saw him pick up back-to-back titles in Bangkok and Tokyo as well.

And while the spotlight is shining on his tennis, he may also be relieved to have left domestic politics some distance behind. Since Tweeting his support of the ‘Yes’ campaign on the eve of the vote for Scottish independence, he found himself abused in social media and subsequently countering claims of disloyalty to Great Britain.

Which only goes to show what fickle and short memories some people have.

Murray very quickly became a national hero on both sides of the border when he won Olympic singles gold and doubles silver, backed that up with his first Grand Slam at the US Open, and topped it all with the Wimbledon title last year. And he even helped the GB Davis Cup team to its first World Group tie victory since 1986—and that just a month after his comeback from surgery.

No doubt if Murray qualifies for the World Tour Finals for a seventh straight year, he will be welcomed back with open arms.

And there remain many who hope that ‘if’ proves to be ‘when’ by the time he takes the plane home from China.

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