Novak Djokovic closed in on a spot in the last four at the ATP World Tour Finals as he got the better of Andy Murray in their seventh encounter this season.
Talked up as the “hottest ticket in tennis” by three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker, the latest installment in the rivalry had spectators in London’s O2 arena on their feet. They were tied at three wins apiece in 2012 before yesterday’s match.
“Another great match, another great performance from both of us,” top-ranked Djokovic told reporters after he won 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. “We have a great rivalry that hopefully will develop even more in the future.”
The pair, who have been friends since they were juniors, started the season with a four hour, 50 minute five-set semifinal clash at the Australian Open, which Djokovic won.
Third-ranked Murray overcame the Serbian right-hander in the U.S. Open final in September in another five-setter that lasted six minutes short of five hours. Last month in Shanghai, Djokovic saved five match points to beat Murray in a three-set match that took almost 3 1/2 hours to complete.
The ATP World Tour Finals, won last year for a record sixth time by Switzerland’s Roger Federer, begins with a round robin. The world’s best eight singles players and doubles pairs are divided into two groups of four, with the top two in each section moving into the single elimination semifinal stage.
Djokovic, who has won 10 of 17 matches against Murray, leads Group A after two victories.
Also yesterday in Group A, 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic defeated France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 3-6, 6-1.
Murray and Djokovic “have the edge right now” over the rest of the field and may develop a rivalry to match that of Federer and Rafael Nadal, Becker said in an interview in London last week.
Federer, the winner of a men’s record 17 Grand Slam singles titles, and 11-time major champion Nadal, who has been sidelined since June with a knee injury, have played each other 28 times in eight years, with the Spaniard leading 18-10.
Murray, 25, had three love service games in the opening set yesterday.
“He lost only a couple of points on his first serve throughout the whole first set,” Djokovic said. “And then he made some unforced errors. He allowed me to get back to the match.”
Watched by his coach and eight-time Grand Slam singles champion Ivan Lendl, Murray handed Djokovic an early break in the second set when a serve-and-volley combination on break point floated long.
“There are decisions you make in matches,” Murray said in a news conference. “If they come off, you get told you’re a genius. If you miss them, then you’re an idiot.”
A backhand error gave Djokovic an early break in the third. After saving break points while trailing 3-1 and 4-2, Murray broke back for 4-4 before dropping his serve again in the next game. Serving for the match at 6-5, Djokovic saved two break points before winning on a backhand error by his opponent.
“When I get to play Andy, it’s going to be a physically very demanding match,” Djokovic said. “I had to hang in there.”
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