THANKS to the wonders of mathematics, the round-robin format and a fierce determination not to waste his opportunities, Andy Murray is safely through to the semi-finals of the ATP World Tour Finals.
The disappointment of losing to Novak Djokovic could be forgotten; the nail-biting three sets against Tomas Berdych could be consigned to history: Murray was still in with a shout of winning his first ATP Finals trophy thanks to his 6-2, 7-6 win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last night.
As the day began, the ATP provided ten different scenarios, each illustrating how all four men in Group A could still qualify for the next stage of the competition. All but four of them suggested that Murray would survive in one way or another but once Djokovic had clobbered Berdych 6-2, 7-6 in the afternoon match (and from 5-1 down in the second set tiebreak, to boot), the landscape became a little clearer. That result meant Murray only had to win one set against Tsonga to reach the semis, even if he went on to lose the match.
Surely that would ease the pressure on the world No 3.
Surely he could grab a set from the bloke he had beaten six times in seven meetings.
As it turned out, Scotland’s finest needed just 33 minutes to win that set, escape the group stages and book his place in the last four. He sprinted out of the starting gate to claim a 4-0 lead in just 15 minutes while Tsonga was still ambling around the court as if he was still in the warm-up.
By the time the Frenchman finally got a game on the board, the first set was well beyond his reach and by the time he began the second set, he realised that his time at the Tour Finals was over. That presented a new challenge for Murray as, relieved of all pressure, Tsonga could swing freely and enjoy his last evening at the O2 Arena. Even if he had launched a stunning comeback to beat the Scot, Murray would still have qualified and Tsonga would still have been sent packing so why not just enjoy the moment? Such is the beauty of round-robin tournaments.
As the match began, Matt Little, Murray’s fitness trainer, was chewing his fingernails down to the knuckles; he did not look a happy man. He need not have worried as Murray’s mind was in lock-down and his game was in perfect nick. Dropping just seven points on serve in the first set, he took the fight to Tsonga and watched as the Frenchman folded.
Knowing that all he needed was one set of total concentration and commitment and he would achieve his goal, he would not allow himself to be distracted for a second.
The soon-to-be semi-finalist was serving well, moving well, causing Tsonga all sorts of problems with his sliced backhand and, when the mood took him, he was stepping inside the baseline to crush his groundstrokes. Had he not dropped serve midway through the second set, he could have back home with his feet up in little more than an hour.
As it was, he had a little more work to do but once into the second set tiebreak, he was motoring and allowing Tsonga just three points, he was home and hosed in an hour and 35 minutes.
So Murray will be back tomorrow for the semi-finals and, in all probability, another showdown with Roger Federer.
The Swiss maestro has already booked his place in the last four by dint of not dropping a set in his first two matches, and he can only be knocked off the top of Group B if he loses to Juan Martin Del Potro in straight sets today.