BRITAIN’S Andy Murray resuscitated his hopes of sealing a semi-final place at the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena last night after a much-improved performance against tournament debutant Milos Raonic.
The 27-year-old faced elimination from the competition had he lost to the seventh seed but held his nerve after Raonic broke back in the second set to ultimately defeat the Canadian in straight sets, 6-3, 7-5, and consign Sunday’s underwhelming opening loss to Kei Nishikori to history.
Murray seems to come alive when staring into the abyss. He played 23 matches and won three titles during an intensive and pressurised six-week period just to reach the finals and once again rose to the occasion when his back was firmly against the wall.
The former Wimbledon champion now faces a date with destiny against world No2 Roger Federer tomorrow, although the Scot was relieved to take the first step towards defying the odds once again.
“I played well,” said Murray. “I was hitting the ball a lot cleaner than I was the other day and I was a bit clearer on what I was trying to do out there and that helped.
“On Sunday there wasn’t much magic but I came up with some good shots at the right moments. Milos did not serve as well as he can and that also helped but I played a solid match from start to finish and it’s good to get the first win.
“Once Milos got the break back I got a little bit more tentative but managed to do enough and now it all comes down to the match with Roger. He is one of the greatest players to play the game and I hope I can play well. I need to do that to get through.”
Federer only needs to win one set to guarantee his place in the last four after thrashing Japans’s Nishikori 6-3, 6-2 yesterday to top Group B after two matches but after that the permutations become more complicated.
Murray is currently ahead of Nishikori in the standings on games won ratio, with the winless Raonic still mathematically able to progress, although a straight-sets success over Federer is likely to be enough for the Scot to secure his last-four passage.
He could win, however, and still go out depending on the score in the other clash between Nishikori and Raonic, while equally a loss may not mean the end of the road for Murray.
But there is no underestimating the importance of Murray’s crucial victory in straight-sets last night as that could yet prove decisive when the final standings are calculated.
The fifth seed appeared on course for a quick-fire success after another Raonic error gave the Briton an early break in the second set, only for the big-hitting Canadian to hit straight back with a break of his own.
Murray navigated two tension-filled service games before a dipping backhand deceived Raonic for a further break, with his opponent’s 33rd error of the match bringing the contest to an end, allowing Murray to once again dare to dream.
ORDER OF PLAY
■ Tomas Berdych  (CZE) v Marin Cilic  (CRO). Not before 2pm
■ Novak Djokovic  (SER) v Stan Wawrinka  (SWI). Not before 8pm