At least Andy Murray knows what he has to do tonight: if he beats Roger Federer he is through to the ATP World Tour Finals. Simples. It is not easy – playing anyone at the Tour Finals never is, they are the top eight players in the world after all – but at least it is straightforward.
After the complications and permutations of the round-robin stage of the tournament, Scotland’s finest is back in his comfort zone – a straightforward knock-out competition. Winner takes all. That is something of a relief.
On Friday night, as Murray was trying to wrap up his qualification from Group A, he was not altogether sure what he had to do to get through. It was only when his coach, Ivan Lendl, advised him to concentrate only on beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rather than just winning a set that the penny dropped – one set against the Frenchman would be enough. And when he won the first set, he thought he had better check with the umpire: was that enough? Sure enough, it was. Murray was into the semi-finals, where his match with Federer will follow the first semi between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro, who yesterday conquered the Swiss 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-3. Today will be much simpler. This is like a grand slam semi-final. And Murray has been rather good at winning those of late.
“There’s obviously differences in terms of the format; it’s quicker matches so you can’t afford to start slowly,” he said. “And also the matches are going to be back to back if you do get to the final – normally you have a day’s break – so it’s a little bit different. But in terms of the quality of players you’re playing against, it’s like that: one of our major tournaments.”
To win in London would be the perfect end to a perfect year. Apart from winning the Wimbledon final, Murray could not have asked for much more in 2012. Now, back in front of the crowd that picked him up after that final defeat in SW19 and carried him through to the Olympic gold medal just a handful of weeks later, he would love to put on a good show.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself,” he said cautiously. “I’m happy with how the year has gone but it would be a great way to finish the year if I could win here. Whatever happens from now on, I’ve had the best year of my life so I’ll try not to be too disappointed if I don’t win but it would be a great way to finish the year, that’s for sure.
“It’s tough to say which is my best memory from the year. Winning the medals at the Olympics was incredible. When you’re playing at the Olympics, you feel like you’re part of a team. The whole nation’s right into it. You feel like you’re playing for them. So, from that perspective, that was the best. But then with the US Open, that was a goal I’d set myself since I was 17, 18 years old, when I came on the tour, and it’s taken a long, long time and a lot of tough losses to get there. So, from an individual point of view, I would say that that was the biggest moment. And I know how nervous I was before that match so that meant a lot to me as well.”
And after coming through that fraught two weeks in New York, Murray fears no one and no situation any more. “I think anytime you win against the top players, it gives you a confidence boost,” he said. “The last few matches I played against Roger and Novak, I’ve had chances in all of the matches. It’s not been ones where I’ve gone out and been outplayed so I think I’ve been playing the right way against them. Sometimes they’re going to go your way, sometimes they aren’t but if I make sure I do the right things on the court then I’ll get my wins against them and I hope that’s the case at the weekend.”
It really is that simple. Now the game is on.