ANDY MURRAY’S winning run in China came to an end yesterday as he fell to world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the China Open.
Murray won in Shenzhen last week as he seeks to force his way into the top eight in the rankings and make the ATP World Tour Finals, and his run to the last-four in Beijing will have done that bid no harm.
But he could not produce the goods to overcome Djokovic who claimed a 6-3, 6-4 win in an hour and 36 minutes.
The first set was going with serve with the minimum of fuss until an epic eighth game which lasted nine minutes.
Murray saw off two break points and then got on gamepoint but ballooned a forehand long and was clearly irritated with himself as he walked back to the baseline.
Djokovic earned himself another break point and this time he took it as Murray put the ball into the net to hand the Serb a 5-3 lead.
The world No.1 then closed out the first set to leave Murray, who has never beaten him when losing the first set, with a mountain to climb.
And the Scot’s task became greater at the start of the second as a couple of unforced errors allowed Djokovic to break him to love in the opening game and then keep Murray off the board in the second to storm into a 2-0 lead.
Murray held serve in the third game and had two break points in a ten-minute battle in the fourth but Djokovic held his nerve to make it 3-1. He had a break point to make it 4-1 but Murray fought back and Djokovic was made to pay as Murray broke at the third time of asking to level things up.
Both men then held their serve but Djokovic broke again to make it 5-4 and served out the final game to love to advance to the final.
“I was doing a decent job of it myself, but I just made a few too many errors today,” Murray said.
“I played some good stuff. But the period in the middle of the first set, and the beginning of the second set, I could have done better.”
Djokovic, who is looking for his fifth China Open win, admitted he was tested by Murray but was pleased with how he handled the key moments in the match.
“It was a two-set victory today, but still it felt like I had to work hard to win the points,” Djokovic said.
“There was a lot of rally exchanges. He had a lot of chances to come back. He was 4-3 up. Just in important moments I managed to play the better tennis.
“The comfortable hold at 4-3 probably allowed me to have that relief, because obviously I didn’t want him to break me and get into a third set where it can go either way.”
Djokovic will take on Tomas Berdych in today’s final. The Czech, who won this tournament in 2011, defeated giant-killer Martin Klizan 6-4, 6-1 in yesterday’s other semi-final.
With his last four appearance, Murray has moved up to ninth place in the race to the season-ending ATP Finals in London, which will feature the top eight.
In the women’s section, French Open champion Maria Sharapova outplayed former No.1 Ana Ivanovic 6-0, 6-4 to set up a final clash with third seed Petra Kvitova who overcame Sam Stosur 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.
Kvitova survived some tense moments before taming Stosur to get within a win of being the world No.2. Stosur dropped just four points in six service games to claim the second set and force a decider but Kvitova reeled off five games in a row to close out the match in two hours and 21 minutes.
In contrast, Sharapova needed 89 minutes to overcome Ivanovic who had beaten her in their last two meetings. After the Russian ran away with the fist seven games, Ivanovic broke back and was level 4-4 in the second set before Sharapova broke her again and closed it out after a ten-minute final game.
n Local favourite Kei Nishikori overcame an injury scare to labour past Benjamin Becker and set up a Tokyo Open final clash against Canada’s Milos Raonic.
Nishikori dropped the first set and needed courtside treatment on a hip injury ahead of the decider before prevailing 4-6, 6-0, 7-6(2) in a duel that lasted an hour and 47 minutes.
The losing finalist in the last two editions of the Tokyo tournament, Raonic stayed on course to be third time lucky with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Frenchman Gilles Simon.