China Open 2014: Andy Murray reaches semi-final against Novak Djokovic

The Scot beat Marin Cilic 6-1 6-4 in Beijing

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The Independent Online

If Andy Murray is to rescale the peaks he will have to do so via some of the more perilous routes. The world No 11, who recorded his biggest win for 15 months when he beat Marin Cilic here today in the quarter-finals of the China Open, is gradually rebuilding his ranking but knows that he will have to overcome some of the sport’s biggest names if he is to maintain his progress.

The 6-1, 6-4 victory over Cilic, the reigning US Open champion, earned a semi-final on Saturday morning against Novak Djokovic, the world No 1. At least the winner will not have to face Rafael Nadal in Sunday’s final after the Spaniard was beaten 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 by Slovakia’s Martin Klizan, who meets Tomas Berdych in the second semi-final.

One of the prices Murray has paid for sliding down the world rankings is the possibility of facing top players earlier in tournaments. When the “Fab Four” were in their pomp, Murray knew he could never meet Djokovic, Nadal or Roger Federer until the semi-finals as the seedings are decided by the rankings. This year, however, the former world No 2, has lost to all three men in quarter-finals.

“The draws tend to be a bit tougher,” Murray said. “To actually get yourself back into the top four or five in the world can be tough. I’ve played Novak in the quarters of a couple of tournaments this year, which in the past wouldn’t have happened. That makes things harder.”

The emergence of a younger generation adds to the challenge. Grigor Dimitrov, who was beaten 6-2,  6-4 by Djokovic in Friday’s quarter-final, Milos Raonic and Ernests Gulbis have all played in their first Grand Slam semi-finals this year, while Kei Nishikori appeared in his first Grand Slam final at last month’s US Open.

Cilic, who beat Nishikori at Flushing Meadows to claim his maiden Grand Slam title, was making his return to competition here following his New York triumph. The world No 5’s scalp was the biggest Murray has claimed since he beat Djokovic to win the Wimbledon title in July 2013. Although Cilic made too many mistakes, Murray’s consistently sound play put the 25-year-old Croatian under sustained pressure.

The victory took Murray up one place to No 9 in the “Race for London”, which lists ranking points won in the calendar year. The top eight players in the list qualify for the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena.

After this week Murray has two more Masters Series tournaments in which to earn ranking points, in Shanghai beginning on Monday and in Paris three weeks later. He also plans to play in the week before Paris, either at Valencia or Basel.

The remaining weeks will also give Murray a chance to improve his world ranking. He has no points to defend until the end of the year, having missed the last two months of last season following back surgery.

Players have to include the eight mandatory Masters Series events in the 18  tournaments which count towards their world ranking, even if they were unable to play in them. Murray’s ranking currently includes two  “zero-pointers” after he missed the year’s last two Masters Series events.

“In my opinion that’s unfair because I was injured,” he said. “I had surgery, so I couldn’t play. So it’s hard. You get punished enough for being injured. But to have zero points for a whole year is rough.”

Sam Stosur and Ana Ivanovic both reached the women’s semi-finals when their opponents, Serena Williams and Simona Halep, pulled out with injury. With the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore just a fortnight away, the world’s top two players did not want to risk jeopardising their involvement. In today’s semi-finals Stosur will play Petra Kvitova, while Ivanovic will face Maria Sharapova.

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