Not so long ago you would have got fair odds on Judy Murray surviving longer on Strictly Come Dancing than her son staying in contention at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. Anyone betting on such an outcome could still turn a decent profit this week, but Andy Murray at least gave himself a chance of lasting longer than his mother when he turned in a much-improved performance here.
The world No 6’s 6-3, 7-5 victory over Milos Raonic in his second round-robin match means he can still qualify for Saturday’s semi-finals, which will take place around the same time as his mother will try to defy the critics once again when she takes to the dance floor at Elstree Studios.
In Thursday’s final group matches Murray will take on Roger Federer, who heads the section after his 6-3, 6-2 victory over Kei Nishikori. Meanwhile Raonic will face Nishikori on a day when mathematicians could go into meltdown calculating which two players will go through to the semi-finals.
Murray could beat Federer and fail to qualify, but he could also lose and go through, depending on the other result. Murray, nevertheless, improved his chances by beating Raonic in straight sets.
Judy and her dance partner, Anton Du Beke, watched from the sidelines as her son put behind him the disappointing defeat to Nishikori. From the start the Scot looked more energetic, more positive and more confident.
Raonic, who can still qualify despite losing his first two matches here, had won three of his four previous encounters with Murray. The 6ft 5in Canadian has one of the best serves in the game, but in Murray he was facing an opponent with one of the best returns.
Murray had already failed to take two break points in the fourth game when he made the only break of the opening set two games later, Raonic hitting a forehand long after being put under pressure by the quality of the return.
Raonic’s forehand was misfiring badly and a swift defeat seemed on the cards when Murray broke in the third game of the second set. The Scot, however, is all too often at his most vulnerable just after he has broken and he allowed the Canadian back into the match in the following game when he put a backhand wide on break point.
Murray’s supporters might have feared the worst as he went 0-30 down when he served at 3-4, but he held on and made the decisive break at 5-5 as Raonic made a mess of a half-volley on break point. Murray served out for victory, completing the job on his second match point as Raonic hit a return beyond the baseline.
In winning his second successive round-robin contest of the week, 33-year-old Federer became the oldest player for 34 years to win 70 matches in a single season on the main men’s tour. The victory also kept alive his hopes of becoming the oldest year-ending world No 1 and of equalling Pete Sampras’ record of finishing the year on top of the rankings for a sixth time.
Federer had lost two of his four previous meetings with Nishikori, but the 24-year-old Japanese was up against it from the moment he failed to convert break points in the third game. It was difficult to judge how badly the world No 5 was affected by a sore right wrist, for which he received treatment during the match, but his total of 30 unforced errors suggested it had been a factor.
Federer, hitting some thunderbolt forehands, broke serve in the fourth game and served out for the first set with something to spare. After two more breaks, in the third and seventh games of the second set, he closed out victory after just 69 minutes.
The Swiss said afterwards that winning 70 matches this year – which is more than any other player – was “a great number”. He added: “I played only the big tournaments this year. Basically, again, I chased all the Masters 1000s, Grand Slams, so forth. It’s not easy to win matches there, as we know, because guys are always very good, margins are small. More important for me is getting closer to the 1,000 number. Not that it’s one I’ve ever wanted to reach, but it would obviously be cool to get there.”
With the first six matches of the week all decided in straight sets, Federer was asked why he thought they had been so one-sided. He said it was down to the slow playing surface, which favoured those players who did not rely on big serves. “I think it’s very much a game of movement and the baseline game,” he said. “I think the best movers are most likely going to come through here.”