Andy Murray showed some serious heart and some serious stones Saturday at the ATP Finals in London winning one of the best matches of the season, saving a match point and beating Milos Raonic 5-7, 7-6(5), 7-6(9) in no less than 3 hours, 38 minutes.
Murray actually came out a little flat, I felt, allowing the Canadian to really dominate play not just with his booming serve but also surprisingly from the baseline. And that power and consistency pushed Murray farther off the baseline. And that’s usually a good thing.
After dropping the opening set thanks to a double fault down break point and then surrendering an early break to start the second, Murray dug in deep and slowly found the range on the Raonic serve. He battled back, got back on serve.
At 5-5 in the second set breaker, Raonic had the serve and stood two points from the match. Murray, though, responded winning the last two points with an exquisite drop shot followed by a service winner to force the decider.
Murray immediately saved a couple break points to start the third, but Raonic wasn’t fading. Not yet. Then at 4-4 a weary looking Raonic was broken at love. Murray would serve for a spot in the final. It seemed over, it wasn’t.
Inexplicably, Murray failed to serve it out at 5-4 and again after re-breaking at 6-5. All told, there were four straight breaks leading up to the final set breaker!!
Over three-and-half hours of tennis had been played, both guys were running on empty, but neither would quit. We were headed for a tiebreaker.
Raonic recovered from 5-3 deficit then saved three match points before getting one himself at 9-10. Murray got Raonic on the run and finished him off with a volley winner, then an forehand error from Raonic into the net sealed.
At 3-hours, 38-minutes it was the longest 3-set match of the year, and the longest at that distance (with breakers) for either player in their careers. And it was one of the best matches.
“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.”
To my surprise, Raonic was for some time out rallying Murray. And he was, as I thought, pounding that serve. But the end was just remarkable, with four breaks of serve and Murray having to win it on his fourth match point.
It finished as one of the best matches of the year. And credit to Murray for pulling that out with so much riding on the win and to do it in front of his home fans. He wasn’t playing his best – made lots of errors, but he when it counted he came up with the goods.
“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.”
Great effort by Raonic also, who showed some variety using that backhand slice with effectiveness. Though I’d still like to see more emotion and desire out of him.
In the losing effort, after the Nishikori feel Raonic will finish at No. 3, so there’s some good news.
Up next was Novak Djokovic against Nishikori. And it never stood a chance in rivaling the first semifinal, mostly because Djokovic was seeing the ball like a basketball and Nishikori had little to offer. In just over an hour, Djokovic cruised into his fifth straight year-end finals destroying Nishikori 6-1, 6-1.
“The best performance of the tournament came really at the right time,” said Djokovic who has now won 22 of his last 23 matches at the ATP Finals. “Everything kind of clicked together tonight. I felt really well. I started with a great pace, great concentration, dictating the play, mixing up the pace. Everything was going well. I am very pleased.
“Kei was not close to his best. The fact that he played late last night, it’s been a long year for him and a long tournament, so he was probably a little bit tired. Nevertheless, I tried to make myself present on the court, make him feel that I’m playing to the last shot, which I did. Even at 6-1, 5-1, I was really committed.”
Nishikori had played that tough 3-set loss to Murray Wednesday, then three sets yesterday against Marin Cilic, and against someone like Djokovic you have to be at full strength.
“Today I think Novak played pretty awesome,” said Nishikori. “There’s nothing I can complain about. Physically, I just wasn’t ready to play against Novak.”
It was one of the best years for me,” Nishikori added. “I played a lot of matches, beating the top players a lot. I got a lot of confidence this year. This is not the finish what I wanted, but still I think it was a good year.”
So, one more match left. What a way to finish the year.
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