October 4, 2014
Novak Djokovic thwarted a brave comeback from Andy Murray to register an amazing 23rd successive win in Beijing, where he has never been beaten.
The world number one was in imperious form as he brushed Murray aside 6-3,6-4 to show why he is virtually untouchable in the Far East. One more win, against either Tomas Berdych or Martin Klizan (surprise conqueror of Rafael Nadal) and Djokovic will have secured his fifth title in one of his favourite cities on the planet.
The battling Brit did at least manage to claim three games in a row in the second set to bring himself level. He had struggled and just managed to hold serve, then broke Djokovic to claw his way back into the match, as the Serb momentarily lost concentration. When Murray held again, he was on equal terms, and there was still a glimmer of hope at 4-4.
We wondered whether Djokovic was human after all, and Murray might be able to stretch the match into the third set.
The answer came in Andy’s very next service game, when, break points down, he hit a series of superb angled shots that would have been winners against any other player. Typically, Djokovic raced for the corners and somehow reached out for seemingly impossible returns to stay alive. Inevitably, he finally coaxed an error out of the frustrated Scot and the vital break was secured.
Smashing his racquet in fury, Murray knew he was second best yet again, having effectively succumbed to a player he has now only beaten once in their last seven bruising encounters. Sure enough, Novak served out the match with ease.
Murray had managed only seven winners in the entire encounter, a measure of the stunning elasticity of the greatest defender the game of tennis has ever seen.
‘Winning against Andy is definitely going to boost my confidence to play tomorrow in the finals,’ said a relaxed Djokovic afterwards.
No wonder there 22 unforced errors in Murray’s performance, even though he played reasonably well. He won only 33 per cent of the points on his second serve, compared to Novak’s 74 per cent on his own second serve.
Once again that underlined how hard it is to find a winner during a baseline rally against the current king of tennis. Murray shouldn’t be too downhearted, having won a title in China the previous week and then beaten US Open champion Marin Cilic in Beijing the day before falling to Djokovic,
Andy is playing with sufficient quality and passion to suggest that he might yet be able to squeeze into the top eight and qualify for the end-of-year World Tour Finals in London. Unfortunately for Murray, two of his rivals for a London spot are on fire.
Over in Tokyo, Kei Nishikori faced a tie-break decider against Benjamin Becker, who had won the first set 6-4 before feeling the full force of a 0-6 Nishikori backlash. The US Open finalist was under immense pressure to produce the goods when it mattered in front of his own crowd, and he did so with punchy panache. A series of typically feisty forehands put paid to Becker 7-2 in the breaker.
Tokyo went wild and Nishikori, who had hit forty winners, now faces Milos Raonic in the Japan Open final. More points in store for Murray’s rivals, therefore, and the Brit will need to produce fresh heroics in Shanghai to stake his claim all over again.
Unfortunately for Murray, he could have to play David Ferrer early on in Shanghai and then, should he beat the Spaniard, face Djokovic yet again, this time in the quarter-finals. Perhaps Andy would have to take more risks against Novak if he wanted to have any hope of pulling off a Shanghai shock.
Right now, however, there seems to be no way round Djokovic, who is quite simply the greatest player in the world.