ANDY Murray and Novak Djokovic were due to meet in the semi-finals at the China Open this morning – but second seed Rafael Nadal was a shock quarter-final casualty.
Murray was mightily impressive in beating Marin Cilic in straight sets in Beijing. The Scot needed an hour and 38 minutes to see off the US Open champion 6-1, 6-4 and set up the tantalising last-four clash with the world No 1.
The British No 1 raced into a 4-1 lead in the opening set at the National Tennis Centre, as Cilic’s serve crumpled under the first signs of pressure from the imposing Scot. It briefly looked like being a nervy affair as both men held serve in the first two games, but Murray charged back from 40-15 down to break Cilic at the second time of asking.
Sixth seed Murray held serve again and then swatted Cilic aside to make it 4-1, before the Croatian finally exerted sustained pressure on Murray. He crafted two break points for himself, but Murray was a man on a mission and saved both before forcing the fourth seed into serving to remain in the set.
Faced with being broken for a third successive time Cilic wilted and Murray struck the first blow at a canter.
Cilic tightened up his serve in the second set as it became the close battle many predicted beforehand. Both men produced high-quality tennis and refused to give up an inch as the set was tied at 4-4. But Murray finally found more cracks in Cilic’s serve to set up three match points after going 5-4 up.
The Scot squandered the first, but made no mistake with the second as Cilic slipped trying to return his sliced backhand, allowing Murray to clinch the win. After hitting 17 winners against Cilic, Murray will feel that he is in better shape heading into the meeting with Djokovic, who earlier beat Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-4 in his quarter-final.
Djokovic is bidding to win the ATP World Tour 500 level event for the fifth time in six years and he made short work of Dimitrov to continue his unbeaten career record at the tournament.
Having breezed through the first set 6-2, he looked on course to repeat that scoreline in the second when he had two match points on Dimitrov’s serve. The Bulgarian saved both and broke back to trail only 5-4, but double-faulted at 15-40 in his next service game to hand Djokovic a 6-2, 6-4 win in 90 minutes. Djokovic said: “The second set was up and down. But generally it was a good performance.”
Murray won last week’s Shenzhen Open and Djokovic continued: “I’ve seen a little bit of his matches this week. He’s hitting the ball very well. Every time I play him, it’s a huge challenge. It’s a very physical match, a lot of long rallies. I do not expect anything less tomorrow.”
Nadal, meanwhile, was beaten 6-7 (7-9), 6-4, 6-3 by world No 56 Martin Klizan, who will face third seed Tomas Berdych in the second semi in Beijing.
One service break apiece in the first set led to a tie-break which the Spaniard eventually won 9-7. And, although he broke in the third game of the second set when Klizan sent a backhand wide, the Slovakian saved a break point in game seven and broke back in the next on his way to taking the set.
In the decider, Nadal had to brilliantly save a break point in his first service game, but broke in the fifth game, only to immediately drop his serve twice in a row. That left Klizan serving for the match and he finished the job in style, with a flying cross-court smash to round off a hold to 15.
Berdych was imperious in beating John Isner 6-1, 6-4, breaking the American’s usually formidable serve twice in the first set and again at the start of the second. Thirteen clean winners in the second set saw him home.
Women’s top seed Serena Williams withdrew ahead of her quarter-final against Sam Stosur due to a knee injury, which was heavily strapped during her three-set win over Lucie Safarova. She follows her sister Venus in pulling out of the tournament and said: “It throbs just sitting, standing. I felt it mostly serving because I’m landing on my left knee. I haven’t had time to get an MRI scan yet, but I’ll do that and see what the problem is.”
The world No 1’s exit gave Stosur an automatic pass to a semi-final against third seed Petra Kvitova after the Czech dispatched Roberta Vinci 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 yesterday.
Fourth seed Maria Sharapova was untested in a 6-0, 6-4 win over Svetlana Kuznetsova and will face Ana Ivanovic, who also received a walkover due to second seed Simona Halep’s hip injury. The pair met in the semi-finals of August’s Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ivanovic victorious in three hard-fought sets before losing the final to Serena Williams.
“It was a very tough match we had in Cincinnati. I was just a point away from winning the match,” Sharapova said.