Job done. Perhaps it was not the prettiest match nor the easiest victory but last night Andy Murray got his first win on the board at the ATP World Tour Finals. Job well done.
He took 90 minutes of graft and grind to get the better of Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-2 and send the London crowd into a merry blaze of Murray mania.
The Scot always gets good support on home soil but over on the Greenwich Peninsula, a stone’s throw from the banking centre of the English capital, the crowd is a mixed bunch. Most years, the Swiss money men pack the O2 Arena to come and watch Roger Federer but with Federer on extended injury leave and with Murray ordained as the world No 1, the 17,000 who came last night were backing Murray to the hilt. When he walked on court, they almost lifted the roof.
Then again, when Cilic walked on court, everyone stopped and stared. For some reason best known to themselves, his clothing sponsors had chosen to dress him in beach shorts that would not make it into Tesco’s cheap and cheerful range. Worse still, they had topped off the outfit with a shirt made for a much shorter man. But very few had come to watch Cilic, no matter what he was wearing; this was Murray’s night.
Alas, the tennis did not always quite live up to the atmosphere. The two started well enough but soon the contest became tense and tetchy. Murray was complaining about the chatter in the crowd – the posh seats are just a few feet from the edge of the court – the fact that the ballkids never seemed to have any balls and that Hawk-Eye appeared to have a squint. He clearly was feeling the pressure in his opening match.
Cilic was feeling it, too, as he moaned to the umpire about the length of time Murray was taking between points. His main concern was that after long rallies, Murray would go to serve and then catch his ball toss mid-action and start all over again. This, Cilic thought, was to give him more time to get his breath back.
But it was all bluff and bluster as both men tried to get their games in order and working at full pelt. Murray proved to be marginally better at this in the first set but it was awfully hard work. A few wayward forehands by the Croatian gave Murray his first break of serve but then, moments later, a couple of wayward forehands and a double fault by the Scot gave the break straight back.
When Murray broke again in the next game, he managed to hold on to his lead and, after 46 minutes, he was a set to the good. It had not been the world-beating, best-player-on-the-planet stuff by Murray that we have all become used to this year but he was in the lead. Sometimes, even the very best have to work hard for their corn.
The statistics did not make for pleasant reading: 14 unforced errors to two winners. That, though, was about to change. In the first four games, the world No 1 notched up twice as many winners as he had in the whole of the first set. Once he secured the first break of serve, there was no stopping him. He got a great deal better and Cilic, quite simply, didn’t.
Cilic tried to attack – a return here, a passing shot there – but he could not reel Murray in. He could not even get close. Murray was homing in on his 20th consecutive match win and, more important, his first points on the leader board at the Tour Finals.
Stan Wawrinka’s hopes of reaching a fourth consecutive semi-final at the Finals were dented by an opening loss to Kei Nishikori, who plays Murray next.
Wawrinka was well below his best and fifth seed Nishikori ran out a convincing 6-2, 6-3 winner. The victory boosts Nishikori’s hopes of overtaking Wawrinka to finish the year as world No 3, and he said: “That’s my goal for this week.”
Jamie Murray’s hopes of finishing the year as the top-ranked doubles team alongside Bruno Soares improved dramatically yesterday without the duo having to lift a racket.
The pair are trying to catch the French team of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert at the top of the rankings. With 575 points between the teams at the start of the week, Murray and Soares needed the Frenchmen to lose a match or two to stand a chance of catching them. Yesterday, the French pair did just that: they lost 7-5, 6-4 to Rajeev Ram and Raven Klaasen.
That cut the gap between the top two teams to 375 points – and that looks bridgeable if the Scots-Brazilian team can keep on winning.