The tournament that brings together the year’s most successful players will see the best of the best compete for the ultimate prize after Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic emulated Roger Federer in reaching tomorrow’s semi-finals of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
The favourite to join the game’s three highest-ranked players after today’s concluding round-robin matches is David Ferrer, who in the absence of the injured Rafael Nadal is not only the best active Spaniard but also the next player in the world pecking order.
A day that began with 10 possible scenarios in terms of qualification from Group A and with all four men in contention for the two semi-final berths on offer ended in straight- forward fashion. Djokovic’s 6-2, 7-6 victory in the afternoon over Tomas Berdych left Murray needing to win just one set against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the evening. Murray reached his goal after only 33 minutes and went on to win 6-2, 7-6. The world No 3 has reached the same stage of the year-ending tournament on two previous occasions but has never played in the final.
Murray and Djokovic will learn their semi-final opponents today. The Scot can face only Federer or Juan Martin del Potro, who meet this afternoon. Murray will play Federer if the Swiss wins, but a victory for Del Potro would not see the Group B positions decided until the evening encounter between Ferrer and Janko Tipsarevic, who has been ill all week and has won a total of just eight games in two successive straight-sets defeats.
Any disappointment Murray had felt at losing to Djokovic in his previous group match two days earlier was quickly dispelled as he flew out of the blocks against Tsonga.
The Frenchman, who had won only one of his previous seven meetings with Murray, was 4-0 down before you could say Jacques Robinson.
Some of Tsonga’s early shot-making was woeful - the world No 8 made 17 unforced errors in the first set - but he was put under constant pressure by Murray’s excellence. The Scot chased every ball and settled immediately into his rhythm, forcing Tsonga back with his ground strokes.
Murray failed to take his first two set points, double-faulting on the second of them, but converted the third when Tsonga hit a service return beyond the baseline. The Scot, no doubt aware that he had secured his place in the semi-finals, clenched his fist in celebration.
As Murray took his foot off the accelerator, Tsonga recovered an early break in the second set and had a set point when Murray served at 5-6, only to put a forehand wide. However, Murray quickly took control of the tie-break, which he won 7-3, completing the job with an ace.
Djokovic became the first of the eight singles players to complete a clean sweep of his round-robin matches when he beat Berdych for the 11th time in their 12 meetings. The Serb has been a changed man since last week, when he lost in his opening match at the Paris Masters and looked like a player for whom the end of the season could not come soon enough.
There was even talk in the French capital that Djokovic, weighed down by concerns over his father’s health and apparently running on empty after a gruelling campaign, might not make it to the start line for this week’s tournament.
The Serb has won his matches here against a background of further worrying reports about his father, Srdjan, who is said to be suffering from an acute respiratory illness. Earlier this week a Serbian source claimed that Srdjan had been flown from Belgrade to a hospital in Germany. Although Djokovic has been reluctant to discuss the matter he said yesterday that his father was ‘better’ and talked about ‘good news every day’, which ‘makes me happier, makes me play more relaxed’. He added: ‘Every win means a lot for my family and me, but there are more important things in life and that’s health. I guess that’s the priority now.’
Berdych, who can now concentrate on next weekend’s Davis Cup final between the Czech Republic and Spain, was in trouble from the moment Djokovic broke in the third game. Returning superbly and striking the ball with great consistency from the back of the court, the Serb broke again to take the opening set in just 34 minutes.
When Djokovic made his third break in the third game of the second set, thanks to another blistering return, it seemed that the end would be swift. Berdych, nevertheless, broke back immediately. When he led 6-3 in the tie-break tournament organisers were probably reaching for their calculators to see how his recovery might complicate the qualifying scenario. Djokovic, however, won the next five points and converted his first match point when Berdych hit a return long.