Andy Murray takes on Milos Raonic on Saturday with the winner moving on to the final of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and the loser facing the end of his 2016 season.
Murray vs Raonic Barclays ATP World Tour Finals tennis is live from London on Saturday at 2pm GMT. Watch and bet on tennis live from London at bet365 > live streaming > tennis
After going 3-0 in his group, Andy Murray will take on Milos Raonic in the semifinals of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals as he tries to make the final of the season-ending championships for the very first time.
The biggest storyline coming into these ATP World Tour Finals was the battle for the year-end world no. 1 ranking, and for once, events at the O2 Arena have not disappointed. Despite his recent struggles, five-time champion Novak Djokovic went 3-0 in the group stages to make the semifinals – and despite his recent successes, Andy Murray has kept pace with the Serb, going 3-0 in his group as well to make the final four.
The maths continues to be slightly complicated, but basically if Murray and Djokovic both lose in the semifinals, Murray will retain the world no. 1 ranking. Otherwise, whoever advances further will become no. 1 – and there is the tantalizing possibility that Murray and Djokovic might actually face off in the final for the year-end world no. 1 ranking, the first time in the history of the ATP World Tour Finals that that would be the case.
Murray has done phenomenally well already to get to the semifinals, given the tough group into which he was drawn and the vagaries of scheduling/other results which are a feature of the round-robin format. The after-effects of the five events he has played since the US Open, winning four of them – Djokovic has played just two – and the poor history he had at this event were evident in his first two matches this week, a straight-sets defeat of Marin Cilic and an exhausting three-hour, 21-minute marathon three-set win over Kei Nishikori, and I can’t have been the only one who thought that Stan Wawrinka, who had won three of the four matches they have played in the last four years, would be too combustible for Murray, whose timing on the ball has been elusive all week, in Friday.
Instead Murray came up trumps in the 6-4, 6-2 victory over Wawrinka, recording back-to-back wins over top five players (something Djokovic hasn’t done since the Australian Open). The US Open champion came out firing, hitting 15 winners in the first five games alone. But Murray just kept soaking up the pressure, timing the ball the best he had done all week, weathered the storm and waited for the sliver of an opportunity. It came at 3-3, when Wawrinka’s inevitable errors helped Murray to a break point, duly converted by the British player when, helped by his approach shot skipping off the net cord, he blanketed the net and forced the error from Wawrinka’s passing shot. Consolidating to love, Murray was unable to convert three set points at 3-5 and Wawrinka held with a gorgeous backhand down the line, but Murray was rock-solid on serve (as he would be throughout the match) and closed out the first set 6-4.
Barclays ATP World Tour Finals 2016 live stream: How to watch and bet on tennis live from London
Milos Raonic (Julian Finney/Getty Images)
That first set was all Murray needed to guarantee a place in the semifinals, but he had no intention of letting Wawrinka back into the match and risking a Saturday meeting with Djokovic, who had qualified top of his group. Keeping the pressure on Wawrinka at a relentlessly high level, Murray was rewarded by an immediate break for 1-0, then a double break for 3-0. Wawrinka demolished two racquets in response, and produced a glorious, glancing backhand volley winner for his second break point of the match, but missed a routine second-serve return and before one knew it, Murray was serving out the 6-4, 6-2 win, having lost just four points behind his first serve.
Let’s be clear: Wawrinka did go away, and go away quickly once that original break was lost. But it’s also true that this was by far Murray’s finest performance of the week, and one which was very much worthy of a world no. 1 – outlasting and ultimately subduing a player of Wawrinka’s calibre, finding a way to win and win resoundingly, was frankly downright Djokovician, as was Murray’s downplayed reaction to the victory. He took the win in his stride, like a man who knew his job was only halfway done.
Milos Raonic also rose to the challenge of qualifying for the semifinals when he faced Dominic Thiem in a winner-takes-all clash on Thursday, serving 14 aces and winning 86% of his first-serve points against the Austrian to back up his win over Gael Monfils and seal his place in the final four for the first time with the 7-6(5), 6-3 victory. The challenge facing Raonic on Thursday wasn’t remotely equivalent to that which Murray was up against on Friday, but that doesn’t mean the Canadian will be an inconsiderable opponent on Saturday – far from it.
It’s been an exceptional season for Raonic, and like Murray he has a ranking goal to pursue – he is in a fight with Kei Nishikori to finish the year ranked world no. 3, which he says become his goal for 2016 after he failed at his original goal of winning a Grand Slam – so the big Canadian has plenty of motivation. He also has plenty of precedent when it comes to being an extremely dangerous opponent for Murray.
Murray is 8-3 against Raonic, but the Canadian actually led their head-to-head in 2014 before Murray beat him in their last seven encounters (including 6-3, 6-3 in Cincinnati in their most recent meeting). All five of their matches in 2016 have gone Murray’s way, but some of them have been extremely close: Raonic was winning at the Australian Open before injury intervened and he lost in five, and he was up a set and a break on Murray in the Queen’s Club final before his nerves got the better of him. (They were due to play in Paris two weeks ago, but Raonic pulled out due to injury – ironically that was the match which got Murray to world no. 1.) Once not much more than an extremely big serve and a forehand, Raonic is a vastly improved and much more versatile player in 2016 and the courts will help him a lot in London. Murray will have to serve very well, return better and be absolutely clinical in the inevitable tie breaks in order to win – a huge ask given the time of year and how much he has already played this week, as well as how well Raonic played against Djokovic – and secure a place in the final at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals for the first time.
Murray vs Raonic is scheduled on court at London’s O2 Arena on Saturday at 2pm GMT