Murray Saves M.P. To Keep Alive No. 1 Dream
World No. 1 defeats Raonic in instant classic
Andy Murray fought off a match point and outlasted Milos Raonic in one of the season's finest matches on Saturday during their Barclays ATP World Tour Finals semi-final in London. The Scot, encouraged by the home crowd, prevailed past Raonic 5-7, 7-6(5), 7-6(9) in three hours and 38 minutes, the longest three-set match at the season finale since match times were recorded in 1991.
“It was one of the tougher matches I played this year,” Murray said. “It was not easy... obviously with it being very long, but also mentally tiring as well.”
Now Murray will play in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals title match for the first time, and he'll be playing to keep his No. 1 Emirates ATP Ranking. World No. 2 Novak Djokovic beat Kei Nishikori 6-1, 6-1 on Saturday night to also advance to the title match. Their title contest will determine who finishes year-end No. 1, marking the first time in season finale history that year-end No. 1 will come down to the final match of the season (Rankings points were first awarded at the season finale in 1990).
“I'll just give my best of what I've got tomorrow,” Murray said.
Nothing was a sure thing on Saturday, though, as Murray and Raonic faced off for the sixth time this season. Three of their five match-ups this year had gone the distance, and their London semi-final contest was tight from the beginning. Raonic controlled his service games during the first set, not facing a break point in the opener.
It was Murray who struggled to get going, looking out of sorts at times. He faced five break points in the first set and was broken while serving at 5-5. Raonic delivered a first-serve service winner to gain a one-set lead.
Raonic, as he had during their past meetings, tried to force the issue against Murray, rushing to the net whenever possible and taking advantage of his powerful first serve. Murray, meanwhile, sought to neutralise Raonic's biggest weapons, stretching the Canadian from side to side on the baseline and making the 6'5” right-hander bend for every volley.
Raonic was executing more effectively, though, and he grabbed the momentum to start the second set as well, breaking to lead 2-1. The World No. 3 was four service holds away from his first season finale title match.
But the semi-final changed the very next game when the Scot broke back to love. Murray gained a skip in his step and the London crowd roared as the World No. 1 reeled off eight consecutive points to lead 3-2.
A big first serve from Murray at 6/5 in the second-set tie-break ensured the match would go to a decider. The third set came down to nerves and Murray's incredible win streak.
He and Raonic were on serve until the ninth game, when Murray broke to love to serve for the match. Three consecutive service breaks later, though, and Murray and Raonic were headed to tennis' most dramatic moment, a tie-break in the final set.
Murray gained his first match point at 6/5 with Raonic serving, but the Canadian slapped a forehand down the line to ensure the show would continue. Raonic erased two more match points at 6/7 and 7/8, and he had his own match point at 9/8 on Murray's serve.
“I really tried to, in the best way possible, leave it all out there,” Raonic said. “I turned it around for myself twice there at the end of the third... I just did everything I could, everything that was within me, at least, to really try to win.”
But after a protracted rally, Murray cut a backhand volley to make it 9/9. Two points later, Raonic hit a forehand into the net, and Murray pointed to his heart in celebration. His winning streak stands at 23 now, and 24 will make him the most impressive number at year-end: No. 1.“I fought hard. I fought very hard this week. I have also the last few months, too,” Murray said. “It would have been easy today when I was behind to have gone away a little bit, but I didn't... Even after serving for the match twice, having a bunch of match points in the tie-break, still stayed tough, chased balls down, fought as best as I could.”