Andy Murray dug deep to fight past Kei Nishikori 6-7(9), 6-4, 6-4 on Wednesday to improve to a 2-0 record in Group John McEnroe at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. The British favourite extended his winning streak to 21 matches and also stayed in the battle to hold off Novak Djokovic for the year-end No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings.
Murray now has 11,585 points in the Emirates ATP Rankings, 405 points ahead of No. 2-ranked and fellow 29-year-old Djokovic (11,180 points). The Scot improved to an 8-2 FedEx ATP Head2Head record against Nishikori, with victory in three hours and 21 minutes – the longest best-of-three-sets match at the year-end championships (since 1991, when records were first kept). It betters Rafael Nadal’s victory over Murray in the 2010 semi-finals, which lasted three hours and 12 minutes.
“I’m a bit tired, obviously,” said Murray. “But you tend to feel it more the following day, sort of in terms like stiffness and soreness in the body. I was in the ice bath after the match. That obviously helps kind of make you feel a bit better. But sort of 10, 12 hours afterwards the body starts to stiffen up. I’m sure tomorrow I’ll be a bit sore. But it’s positive I get a day’s rest, a day’s recovery tomorrow.
”It’s obviously important to win matches to give yourself the best chance to go through. 200 points for each match here is quite a lot, as well. Obviously that increases as you get into the semis, potentially in the final. It could come down to a match between me and Novak. Who knows what’s going to happen [over] the next few days. Just from my side, [I need to] concentrate on trying to win my own matches, get through as many as I can, make it as tough as possible for Novak to jump me.”
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In the first set, Nishikori saved one set point at 5-6, and another two sets points in the tie-break as he looked to record his second successive win – and third overall victory – over Murray. Fifth seed Nishikori first saved one set point at 5-6, 30/40, when top seed Murray snatched at a forehand with the court open. Murray recovered from a 3/6 deficit in the tie-break, then saved a further set point at 7/8, before hitting a mid-court forehand wide to end the 85-minute opener. Murray was left to rue missed opportunities to clinch the set at 7/6, when he mis-timed a forehand, and also at 9/8 – when Nishikori needed to hit two smashes to finish the point.
Murray regrouped immediately to break Nishikori to 30 in the first game and opened up a 4-2 advantage, but a concentration lapse let Nishikori back to 4-4, when the Scot struck a backhand volley into the net. Murray played with greater intensity, realising Nishikori was in the ascendancy. He broke Nishikori, then proceeded to save two break points. Before, finally, clinching the second set that lasted 53 minutes, on his third set point opportunity, when Nishikori hit a backhand long.
Each game in the deciding set was competitive, but it was Murray who found a way to break Nishikori in the third and fifth games. Nishikori was unlucky not to break for 2-2, squandering two chances in a 14-point game. With Murray on the brink of victory at 5-2, Nishikori fired again and won two straight games. Murray remained in control to improve his ATP World Tour-best match record to 75-9, which included eight titles in 2016.
Nishikori, who reached the 2014 semi-finals on his debut at the season finale, dropped to a 58-19 match record on the season, which includes the Memphis title and four other finals. He will play Marin Cilic in his final match of the group stage.
“It never feels good after losing the match,” said Nishikori. “I know it was close. I mean, I’m definitely disappointed… I think it was great match, both of us. I played really consistently [and] played with good energy. I’m sure he’s going to qualify from the group. I will try to aim for the second spot.”