Merciless Murray off to flyer

Scot crushes Del Potro in front of largest ever crowd at a tennis match in Britain

Wimbledon it was not. Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro entered the O2 Arena for the first singles match at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals with The Clash's "London Calling" blasting out over the PA system, while during the match video screens around the stadium proclaimed "ace" and "set point" at appropriate moments and music played during the changeovers.

The crowd of 17,467 – 2,500 more than the capacity on Centre Court at Wimbledon – was the biggest ever to watch a tennis match in Britain and they clearly enjoyed what they saw as the season-ending championships got off to the perfect start. Murray, the world No 4 and home favourite, beat Del Potro, the world No 5, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 to put himself in pole position to qualify for the latter stages of the tournament.

Saturday's semi-finals will be contested by the two players with the best records in each of the round-robin groups. Roger Federer will be Murray's opponent tomorrow in the next round of matches in Group A after the Swiss recovered from a poor start to beat Fernando Verdasco in his first match. Murray beat Federer when they met in the round-robin stage of last year's event, knocking him out of the tournament, and has won six of their nine meetings.

The complicated maths of the format mean that tomorrow's winner may still have to win a third round-robin match to go through, although it is also possible to qualify with just one win in three matches.

Murray has been playing down his chances of winning here given his lack of recent competition, although he made a winning return earlier this month in the Valencia Open after a six-week lay-off with a wrist injury. Yesterday's match was his first against a top-five player since he lost to Federer in Cincinnati in August and his first win over such an opponent since April.

How much it meant was evident in Murray's celebrations. After cracking a backhand winner following a beautifully engineered rally on his third match point, the 22-year-old Scot leapt into the air in delight. "It was a really good start," he said afterwards.

Murray's bank manager will be similarly happy. Having picked up $120,000 (about £72,000) simply for turning up at the tournament, Murray pocketed the same again for this victory. Should he win the title without losing a match, he would take home $1.63m (nearly £1m), which is the biggest prize in tennis. Federer earned £850,000 for winning Wimbledon this year.

Although Murray said it was "a great atmosphere" inside the stadium, you had to wonder whether he was being diplomatic. For all the razzmatazz – the pre-match countdown alone must have lasted the equivalent of half a set – the atmosphere inside the stadium was generally muted.

For the most part the crowd were surprisingly subdued given that Murray was playing – and winning – in a tournament second only in importance to a Grand Slam event. It would have been hard to imagine any crowd anywhere else in the world being as quiet in such circumstances.

It was a match of wildly fluctuating fortunes. With Del Potro needing treatment after three games for a nose bleed – "I have a big nose," he said by way of explanation afterwards – the Argentine looked badly out of sorts and was soon trailing 5-0. Murray showed no mercy, combining subtle drop shots with some pounding ground strokes, although he needed seven set points to drive home his early advantage.

Del Potro, however, had started to piece his game together and by the time he had taken a 3-0 lead in the second set the US Open champion had won six games out of the previous seven. Serving more consistently and finding his range with his clubbing forehand, Del Potro levelled the match at one set apiece, having broken back immediately after Murray had recovered to trail 3-2.

The Argentine, however, has looked curiously fragile ever since his triumph in New York – he has won only two matches in the last two months – and Murray quickly took command of the decider.

Cutting out his errors and serving with greater accuracy, Murray took a 3-0 lead. At 2-5 down Del Potro saved two match points after serving two double faults from 15-15, but could do nothing about the third as Murray claimed his fifth victory in six meetings between the two men. Del Potro hit 31 winners to Murray's 30, though the more significant statistic was the Argentine's 38 unforced errors compared with the Scot's 26. "The start of the match was important," Murray said. "Me and Juan haven't played that much since the US Open. I kind of expected a little bit of a scrappy match, but after I went 5-0 up and he didn't start particularly well I thought the standard was very good. We played some great points and I'm obviously happy to get the win.

"I was happy with a lot of parts of my game. He has a big forehand. He can hit a lot of winners, but he can also make mistakes off of it. There was a period at the end of the first set until the beginning of the third where he was hitting it big. I managed to keep myself in the points with low slices and backhands up the line. They helped a lot to keep him out of that backhand court.

"He's got a big serve, a long reach and goes for huge shots. You just have to try and find a way through that. Tactically, I've always been quite good, so I found a way through it today."

Del Potro said that the nosebleed had not caused him any major difficulty. "Andy just started to play very hard and very well," he said. "He broke my serve very early, then he took control of the first set. My matches against Andy are always tough."

Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders