Andy Murray's valiant efforts to qualify for the semi-finals at the ATP World Tour Finals came dramatically unstuck yesterday, as he was thrashed 6-0, 6-1 by Roger Federer. The two adversaries had been locked at eleven wins apiece in their personal head to head prior to last night's match-up, although Federer had bragging rights at the O2 with three successive wins, and the former champion was in no mood to allow Murray a chance to qualify even though he knew he was already through.
Qualification for the Scot was always going to be a tall order after defeat in his first round-robin group match to Japan's Kei Nishikori, but a straight sets' victory over Milos Raonic had left a small chink of light open to him. That set the mathematical geniuses into action over night and there were multiple permutations cited as to which two from three could qualify (dependent on the remaining matches' results) before Nishikori played in the afternoon game. There was even a bizarre combination of results that would have seen the Swiss maestro crash out despite two wins already in the (kit) bag.
There was the additional twist of seeing Spaniard David Ferrer stepping out to play Nishikori, as Raonic withdrew earlier in the day citing a partial quad tear. Ferrer had been a "ready-made" substitute to step in for this very scenario and indeed was slightly unlucky not to qualify on merit after a respectable season. Ferrer could not qualify but was a more than capable "deputy" for the Canadian, taking the opportunity for an extra pay day and the opportunity to earn additional ranking points. He merited his opportunity by taking the first set 6-4, but his Japanese opponent began to get his measure with some wonderful ground strokes and deft drop shots and levelled things up by taking the second 6-4 himself. The deciding set proved a slight anti-climax as the Michael Chang coached player ran away with it 6-1, fully illustrating why many (especially in Japan) expect him to rise even higher in the rankings than his current number 5 spot, to ensure he had at least one foot in the last four here.
Murray came out to play his match against his Swiss nemesis knowing that it was all or nothing, a straight sets' win was the only result of any use to his progress. The fact that he never came close to achieving that was down to his Swiss opponent's brilliance, as much as Murray's lack of it on the night. It took only 56 minutes for Federer to take the two sets that maintained his perfect record at the event, with Britain's number one going perilously close to registering nothing on the scoreboard until he held his serve in the twelfth game. The O2 crowd were perhaps surprisingly slightly pro- Federer over the home nation favourite, but then again the English #Tennis fans have always taken to the mercurial skills he readily demonstrates, so his victory was warmly received. The Scot will need to look back at the problems he had with his first serve in the match and iron out the unforced errors (if ever there is such a thing against the top players) if he is to challenge for major titles next year one feels. He now believes he has six or seven weeks to put all of that right on the practice court, but on this showing it will take a dramatic upturn in his performance to have any impact on the upper echelons of the sport.
Federer looks to be on course to meet Novak Djokovic in the final here, who has also been in imperious form so far in the tournament in the other group as he looks to retain the title. The Serb has first to defeat Tomas Berdych, to ensure they do not meet in the semis and to ensure it is he who ends the year as World Number one. One set against the Czech player would ensure his place in the semis, but Djokovic will be looking for nothing less than another convincing victory. The other semi- finalist looks likely to be Stan Wawrinka who will be highly fancied to beat Marin Cilic in his last group match, especially as his opponent is showing clear signs of fatigue after a long but successful season.
An interested spectator at courtside last night who would no doubt have appreciated Federer's classy display was the Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho. Perhaps there is more than one "special one" in town this week, but it was not Murray (sadly) on this display.