Holiday can wait, getting to last four is Murray’s goal

Straight-sets win will extend Murray's glory year
Straight-sets win will extend Murray's glory year
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The holiday plans are still on hold and the glossy brochures remain unopened – Andy 
Murray still has work to do at the ATP World Tour Finals.

For all his disappointment at losing to Novak Djokovic on Wednesday, and for all the convoluted calculations involved in working out the standings in the round-robin phase of the event, the world No 3 still has a very good chance of reaching the semi-finals. All he has to do is beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets today and that place in the last four is his. No pressure, then.

Should Murray lose today, he could still qualify if Novak Djokovic beats Tomas Berdych this afternoon. Then again, if Murray drops a set to Tsonga and Berdych beats Djokovic, Murray could still go through but then it would depend on the number of sets and games won by each man and the head-to-head results this week. At that point Murray’s fate would be determined by a fraught ATP official armed only with a calculator, a piece of paper and a degree in applied mathematics. Best concentrate on clobbering Tsonga and be done with it.

“I’ve won two matches and qualified; I’ve won two matches and not qualified,” Murray said with a slightly weary look. “The only way to guarantee is by winning three matches or by winning your first two matches in straight sets. It’s not easy to win matches comfortably here because you’re playing against the best players on a quick surface. It often happens, because of the way they schedule the matches, you always come down to the last day and who’s going to qualify. And these scenarios happen all the time.”

Beating Tsonga has never been a major problem for Murray – he has managed it in six of their seven previous meetings – but dominating the exuberant and powerful Frenchman to secure that straight sets win will not be easy. Tsonga looked to be on his way to victory against Berdych on Wednesday, taking the first set and having break points at the start of the third. But when those chances slipped away, the confidence and belief evaporated and Tsonga looked like a man who desperately wanted to be somewhere else. Just as Ivan Lendl has taught Murray how to focus his energies from first ball till last, so Roger Rasheed, the Frenchman’s new coach, needs to harness Tsonga’s talent and concentrate it solely on the point in front of him. And it is unlikely he will have managed to do that in the last 48 hours.

“You never know how any coaching relationship is going to work,” Murray said. “I know Roger well and I like him a lot, he’s got a lot of really good qualities. He works hard, he’s a really nice guy, he keeps himself in very good nick, he trains hard. I think he works his players hard as well and with hard work, normally if you have a talented player, you will get good results.

“Tsonga has played great the last couple years, had his best year on the tour without a coach, maybe he’s looking for that bit of extra help and yes, it will be interesting to see how he improves or what he changes.”

Tsonga will start the day propping up the bottom of Group A. If the match begins to slip away, he knows his stay in London is over – and that could work in Murray’s favour. Like everyone else, the Scot is counting off the hours until the season is over and he can get some rest and after the best year of his career, he is treating himself to a holiday. Usually, he heads straight from the O2 to his winter training camp in Miami to put himself through weeks of lung-bursting training in preparation for the new season. This year, he is taking a week off in the sun and – for the first time in years – will be home for Christmas.

He is not particularly fussy about where he goes providing it is warm, relaxing and easily accessible by plane. “We do a lot of travelling and flights so I don’t really want to go somewhere where it’s three or four flights away,” he said. All suggestions are welcome but with just two clean sets against Tsonga separating Murray from a place in the semi-finals, it probably best not to bother him with holiday plans for a few days yet.