Winner takes all final still on the cards
Andy Murray swept into the semi-finals of the ATP Tour Finals with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Stan Wawrinka on Friday as the world number one remained on course for a final showdown against Novak Djokovic.
Murray brushed aside Wawrinka in 86 minutes at London's O2 Arena to ensure he finished top of his group and avoided a last four clash with Djokovic. Instead, the 29-year-old will face Canada's Milos Raonic in Saturday's semi-finals. And Wawrinka's defeat means Japan's Kei Nishikori qualifies as runner-up to Murray and he takes on defending champion Djokovic in the other semi-final.
Murray ended Djokovic's 122-week reign at the top of the rankings two weeks ago, but to guarantee finishing 2016 in pole position, he must win the Tour Finals for the first time. He looks in the mood to do just that on the evidence of a ruthless performance against US Open champion Wawrinka, which took his winning streak to 22 matches and equalled his career best run earlier this year.
"The first set was tight. There weren't many chances. I managed to get the break late in the set," Murray said. "In the second set I'd already qualified for the semis so maybe it was easier for me to play more free than him. Stan is one of the best players in the world. When he's at his best he's unplayable, but I played a solid match. I'm happy to get to the semis."
Looking to top an incredible year
This has been an incredible year for Murray, who has won Wimbledon for the second time, claimed a second Olympic gold medal and become a father for the first time. To finish it on another high, Murray must repeat this year's Wimbledon and Queen's final triumphs against the big serving Raonic. That would set up a possible winner-takes-all meeting with his old rival Djokovic to determine who secures the Tour Finals title and the world number one ranking.
After spending three hours and 20 minutes locked in a punishing duel with Nishikori that eventually went Murray's way on Wednesday, the Scot had to ignore his aching limbs and win three matches in three days to finish the season on top of the world.
He got a pre-match boost just before stepping on court when he learned his brother Jamie was guaranteed to finish the year as doubles world number one with partner Bruno Soares. Maintaining the Murray family's hopes of a double celebration when the brothers head off for their father's stag do next week, the Scot matched Wawrinka blow for blow.
Variation the name of the game
He landed the crucial blow on his first break point when a fortunate net-cord bounced his way, flustering Wawrinka into an ill-timed error that gifted Murray a 4-3 lead in the first set. Wawrinka had made the semi-finals of the Tour Finals for the last three years and knocked out Murray in the group stages last year. But Murray won their last meeting in the French Open semi-finals in June and he pressed home his hard-earned advantage by closing out the set in businesslike fashion.
Murray knew he only needed to take one set to be certain of reaching the last four, but he had to win the match to be assured of topping the group. He kept his foot on the gas and broke Wawrinka again in the first game of the second set. A huge serve from Murray got him out of trouble when Wawrinka finally got his first break point in the next game. Murray effectively ended Wawrinka's resistance with a clinical volley that secured another break in the third game and prompted the frustrated Swiss star to smash two racquets and draw a code violation. Tormented by Murray's changes of pace and angles, Wawrinka folded and one last miscued forehand sealed the Scot's regal progress.