Andy Murray kept his narrow Masters Cup hopes alive by booking his place in the St Petersburg Open final with a thrilling victory over Mikhail Youzhny yesterday.
The British No 1 wrapped up a 6-2 5-7 7-6 (7-1) victory in abattle that lasted more than two- and-a-half hours against the Russian – one of his rivals for the remaining places at the elite end-of-season tournament.
With just three ranking places separating the pair – who had never met before – a close encounter seemed on the cards, but two breaks in the opening three games put the 20-year-old Briton firmly in charge. Youzhnyfinally held serve to make it 4-1 but rarely threatened his opponent as Murray served out to take the opening set.
The world No 19 finally forced a break point on the Murray serve in the fourth game of the second set, but Murray dug deep to hold.
The 25-year-old Russian was much improved in the second set and the players were on serve until the Russian broke Murray's serve for the first time with the help of a controversial decision.
On set point, Youzhny's shot was clearly out but was ruled in. Murray was outraged by the decision but could do little to change the outcome as he had already used both his Hawk-Eye challenges in that set. Youzhny therefore took the set and took the match into a decider.
Murray, making his first appearance in Russia's second city, was suffering by now from unforced errors and forehands into the net and then beyond the baseline which saw him broken in the fourth game of the third set. Immediately he had two points to break back, but Youzhny found powerful serves to hold eventually for 4-1.
After three more games, the home favourite served for the match, but Murray dug in and claimed a match-saving break to stay alive.
Youzhny forced a match point in the next game only for the Briton to scramble for a morale-boosting hold to make it 5-5.
The match went to a tie-break and Murray raced into a 4-0 lead before a Youzhny double fault handed him a 7-1 win and a place in the final, where he will meet either the Croatian qualifier Marian Cilic or the Spanish sixth seed Fernando Verdasco.
Murray is still on course for one of the remaining places in the season-ending Masters Cup, with next week's Masters Series tournament in Paris the last chance to earn qualifying points. Three places remain for the Shanghai event, with Spain's David Ferrer likely to take one of them.