It has not been the easiest of seasons for Andy Murray but the year will end on a high note. The 23-year-old Scot's 6-3, 6-4 victory yesterday over France's Jérémy Chardy at the Shanghai Masters ensured that he will again qualify for the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London. With Rafael Nadal, Murray's potential semi-final opponent, suffering a surprise defeat to Jürgen Melzer, the world No 4 has a great opportunity to make further progress at the Qi Zhong Tennis Centre.
Murray has now reached the World Tour Finals – previously known as the Tennis Masters Cup – for the last three years. In 2008 he made the semi-finals after a memorable victory over Roger Federer in the round-robin stage and last year he failed to match that performance by only the smallest of margins in the group phase. The tournament features the eight most successful players in the calendar year and Murray joins Nadal, Federer and Novak Djokovic as men who have already secured their places in London next month.
"I think it's a great achievement to qualify," Murray said yesterday. "I'm obviously very happy to have done it with a few tournaments left."
He added: "I think the closer it gets to the tournament the more you start thinking about it. So much can happen at the beginning of the year. I had a great tournament at the Australian Open and then I had three or four really bad months. I might have been outside the top eight until maybe Wimbledon time, so you have to try and view the year as a whole and not panic if things go bad at the start because it's such a long season."
Having beaten China's Yan Bai, ranked No 465 in the world, in his first match, Murray stepped up a gear to overcome 23-year-old Chardy, the No 59. The Scot was well below his best in losing to Ivan Ljubicic in Beijing last week but is much happier with his game now. He served particularly well under pressure against Chardy and did not drop his serve once.
"He had quite a few break points in the first set and I saved them all pretty well with good serves – a good first serve and a big forehand on a couple of occasions," Murray said. "It was really, really important to get a good start in the match, because he's very, very streaky. He can play some great tennis. I needed to try to get ahead early and I managed to do that.
"I thought my second serve today was good. I served a lot into his forehand and varied the serve a lot, which helped. He served exceptionally well. He served 80 per cent first serves in the first set. To beat a guy and win a set against someone who serves that well, with that high a percentage, was good."
Murray's quarter-final opponent today will be another Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is playing only his second tournament since losing to the Scot in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. Tsonga, who has had a knee injury, reached the last eight by beating Germany's Florian Mayer.
Nadal failed to reach a quarter-final for the first time this year when he lost 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to Melzer. The world No 1 had never dropped a set to the Austrian in three previous meetings but was well beaten on this occasion as Melzer regularly attacked the Spaniard's second serve.
In the other half of the draw Federer and Djokovic are heading towards a semi-final showdown. Federer, who first has to find a way past Robin Soderling, beat Andreas Seppi 6-3, 6-4, while Djokovic, aiming to win back-to-back titles in China after his victory in Beijing, overpowered Richard Gasquet 6-1, 6-1. Djokovic now faces Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, who beat Tomas Berdych.