Andy Murray yesterday edged closer to his year's major target of a place in the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup but insisted that his nerves are holding firm. A 6-4, 6-2 victory over Fabrice Santoro sent the 20-year-old Scot into a further must-win match here in today's quarter-finals of the Paris Masters against another Frenchman, Richard Gasquet.
Two places are still available in the elite eight-man field to play in Shanghai. Up to 18 players were still in contention at the start of the week, but before the final match of last night's evening session between Mikhail Youzhny and Tommy Haas only seven were left. Murray may still have to reach the final to qualify, depending on other results here, but his current form places him among the favourites.
"I'm not that tense here," Murray said. "There's a bit of nerves before you go out on to the court, but it's not like I'm feeling butterflies when I'm serving for a set or serving for the match. I'm not getting nervous towards the end of matches. Once I've got into my rhythm, I feel pretty good."
The Scot said he had gone to bed on Wednesday night while following the match between James Blake, who was at the time one of his rivals for Shanghai, and Nicolas Mahut on his computer. "I went to sleep after the first set thinking there's a chance that maybe Blake was out and that was going to be good," Murray said. "But I woke up in the morning and the first thing I did was check on the internet."
Blake beat Mahut but lost 6-4, 6-4 yesterday to Gasquet, who is another player in contention for Shanghai. The world No 13 has played Murray once before, winning their semi-final in a Masters series tournament in Toronto last summer in straight sets.
Murray said: "Gasquet is a great shot-maker, hits the ball really hard off both wings and volleys well. He probably doesn't serve as well as Blake, but moves good and has a nice slice."
The Scot was simply too good for Santoro. The Frenchman is one of the most skilful players on tour, but once Murray started to read his serve and attack the net he took command. Murray took the first set in 44 minutes, making a crucial break to lead 4-3. The British No 1 won the first four games of the second set and secured victory after 69 minutes with a trademark drop shot.