Britain's Andy Murray is steeling himself for a decisive showdown with rival Novak Djokovic to determine who secures the coveted year-end No1 ranking at the climax of the ATP World Tour finals.
Olympic gold medallist Murray closed in on a semi-final spot at London’s O2 Arena after battling back from a set down to emerge victorious from a gruelling encounter with world No5 Kei Nishikori, winning 6-7 (9-11), 6-4, 6-4.
The 29-year-old, who has won his opening two group matches at the season-ending spectacle for the first time since his tournament debut in 2008, would have qualified for the last four had Marin Cilic defeated Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss, however, prevailed in straight sets to keep Murray waiting.
But with one foot in the semi-final – the Scot has not reached the last four since 2012 – Murray’s thoughts have now turned to retaining his status as world No1, which will be achieved if he at least matches Djokovic’s results.
“It could come down to me and Novak,” said Murray.
“Who knows what’s going to happen over the next few days? Just from my side, I have to concentrate on trying to win my own matches, get through as many as I can and make it as tough as possible for Novak to jump me.
“I think for the tournament, for everyone interested in tennis, it would probably be the perfect way to finish the year. For me, and I’m sure Novak, both of our goals would be to try to win the event.”
It took Murray three hours and 20 minutes to dispatch Nishikori and record his 21st successive victory, the longest match at the competition since it moved to London in 2009.
It also allowed Wimbledon champion Murray to erase the memory of his US Open quarter-final loss to Nishikori in September.
“He was making me run a lot, but I was starting to get some free points on his serve,” added Murray. “I managed to get enough points to win. That’s what you work for, the big moments in big matches. That’s why you put the work in.”
Wawrinka recovered from his opening defeat to Nishikori in the round-robin phase of the event and overpowered Cilic 6-7 (3-7), 6-7 (3-7), rekindling his own hopes of a place in the last four. Wawrinka meets Murray tomorrow.
World No6 Gael Monfils, meanwhile, was last night replaced at the finals by David Goffin of Belgium after being forced to withdraw from the tournament with a rib injury. Monfils struggled through the final two sets of his defeat to Dominic Thiem on Tuesday.