Murray favoured ahead of Federer

ALTHOUGH no-one dare mention it to the ATP's gambling and integrity unit, Andy Murray is the bookmakers' favourite to win his first Masters Cup title this weekend.

In the tennis world, gambling is a forbidden topic and the powers that be tremble at the mere mention of odds for fear of being accused of match-fixing. No matter – the men with their eye on the money are still backing Murray as the most likely winner. Today the Scot takes on Roger Federer in the last of the round robin matches, scheduled to start at 12:00 GMT. He is already safely through to the semi-finals but the Swiss has to win to keep himself in the competition. Murray, therefore, has nothing to lose while Federer is hanging on by his fingertips to the Masters Cup title that he has won four times in the past five years. And Federer is expecting no favours.

"I think we can expect a match that's going to be full-on," he said. "There's a lot to play for – it's the prestige. I don't think Andy wants to go into the semi-finals with a loss." The Swiss is still recovering from the stomach bug that laid him low at the start of the week. With a day off yesterday, he is hoping to be well enough to tackle Murray at his best. Even so, he was not sounding too optimistic.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I still have a chance," he said. "I hope with a day of recovery, I will make a miracle happen here and get through into the semis."

Federer and Murray have had a rocky relationship over the past few months. When the Scot swept Federer aside at the Dubai Open in March, Federer was underwhelmed. Grumpy and out of sorts, he had a side-swipe at Murray's tactics, his development and his future. Murray was, Federer claimed, merely a defensive player who did nothing more than wait for his opponent to make mistakes.

Since then the Swiss has cheered up considerably thanks, in no small part, to beating Murray in the final of the US Open. Claiming his only grand slam title of the year clearly did wonders for his mood and not even losing to the Scot at the Madrid Masters last month seems to have dampened it. Now Federer is one of the chief cheerleaders in the growing Murray fan club.

"He's a wonderful player," Federer gushed. "He has had a great end to the season. He's definitely the guy most in form. He brings something different to the game. He has a lot of options: good serve, good backhand, good volley. He has a good read of the court, everything a good player needs. It's an interesting battle against him every time. We are both good tacticians and if we pick the wrong one then we try to adjust during a match. I'm looking forward to the match. It should be interesting."

Murray is one of nature's more competitive souls and he hates to be beaten at anything. But if there is nothing to play for, he finds it difficult to get himself into the right frame of mind for a match – which is why he is no lover of exhibition matches.

On paper, today's encounter means nothing to the Scot as he has already qualified from the Red Group. But Murray is thinking further ahead than that and if he can beat Federer, he will eliminate him from the competition and so would not have to play him again in the final. That is just the spice that Murray needs to fire himself up.

"I don't feel like the favourite yet," Murray said. "I'm two matches away from the final and I'm much more likely to win it now than I was at the start of the week. You've got to beat five top-eight players if you want to win the title and they get tougher as the week goes on. There are no easy matches, but I'm playing well and I'm confident so I've got a shot at winning."

A Murray win would be popular around these parts. In a city of 27 million people, most of whom speak not a word of English, news is spreading fast about Dunblane's favourite son. Every time he steps on court at the Qi Zhong stadium, the cheers erupt for him. And he quite likes it.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"It is strange," he said, "it's a huge stadium and there were at least four or five Scottish flags and five or six British flags hanging up there. The support here has been good. The fans seem really excited about all the matches and really get into them, even though there are no Chinese players playing. I think it almost helps the atmosphere. I've really enjoyed the matches so far."

With Murray in his current mood and with the crowd behind him, it is worth having a fiver on the Scot to win regardless of what the ATP think.