IT MAY take a stretch of the imagination to think that Andy Murray is already targeting Wimbledon next summer but as this season draws to a nail-biting close, the Scot is certainly talking up his chances.
He moved to within one match of a place at the ATP World Tour Finals yesterday, racing past Julien Benneteau 6-3, 6-4 in the second round of the BNP Paribas Masters. Should he beat Grigor Dimitrov today, his place at the O2 Arena in London will be secure; if one or two other results go his way, he may already have qualified before he puts racket to ball, so close is the competition for the four remaining places at the season-ending showcase event.
But for Murray, the goals are simply defined: beat Dimitrov and qualify for London. Then bust a gut to win the title in Paris. Then head to London and mop up as many ranking points as possible to secure a decent seeding for the Grand Slam events in 2015. And the biggest of those is Wimbledon in the middle of the year.
“My goal will be to try to win the tournament here because I still have a chance of moving up the rankings this year,” Murray said. “Whatever happens this week has an effect on the middle of next year. If I can do well at the beginning part of next year I can move my ranking up, and that helps with all sorts of things. But next year, I obviously want to try to make a big push at the beginning part of the year and hopefully get back up to the top of the rankings.”
Murray, then, is thinking big. After a season of frustrations and fluctuating form, he has found his best at just the right moment when there are bucket loads of rankings points on offer. To win in Paris this week would bring him 1,000 points; the undefeated winner in London earns another 1,500 points. However tired he may be feeling after playing 21 matches in the past 35 days – and winning 19 of them – he has plenty still to play for.
“I put in a lot of hard work the last few weeks; played a lot of tough, long matches,” he said. “If I get to London, I deserve to be there because it’s your results across the whole year. My results in most of tournaments this year, most of the big tournaments, have been good enough to be in the top eight.
“In all the slams I reached at least the quarter-finals so I have won more matches than most of the players in the slams – Roger [Federer] and Novak [Djokovic] might be the only ones to have won more. And then across the rest of the year, I have won I think the second most amount of matches on the regular tour. So if I get there [to London], I think I deserve to be there.
“Right now if I win the match [against Dimitrov], I’m in control of what happens. I know now if I win one more match that I’m definitely in.”
Dimitrov is also in with a chance of qualifying for London – he needs to get to the semi-finals to be sure – and has already beaten Murray twice this year. The first time was back in February when Murray came within touching distance of victory and was furious with himself for letting the match slip away. Then, at Wimbledon, he turned in a surprisingly flat performance in the quarter-finals to lose again to the Bulgarian. This time, though, it will be different: both men have a goal in sight and, this time, Murray is back to his battling best.
“He still has a decent chance at getting in to London, so he’d be pretty motivated, I would have thought,” Murray said. “It will be a good match for both of us. I’m match tight. I feel like I’m playing better tennis than I was earlier in the year. Hopefully it will be another good one.”
Both men warmed up for the showdown with impressive wins, Dimitrov taking just 61 minutes to thrash Pablo Cuevas 6-0, 6-3. Murray’s win over Benneteau was equally one-sided, he dropped just four points on serve in the first set and while he was broken in the second set, he already had the match by the scruff of the neck at that stage. There was no hint of fatigue or burnout despite his gruelling recent schedule and he was aggressive and focused from first ball to last.
“To be honest, he gave me a good start really,” Murray said. “I mean, he served three double faults in a row in his first service game. I served very well in the first set. There weren’t really any long rallies or physical rallies at all in the first set. I didn’t serve so well in the second set. I went through a period where I missed a lot of first serves in a row. Apart from that, I was hitting the ball well from the back of the court.”
Federer, meanwhile, kept up his hopes of finishing the year as world No 1 when he downed Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 6-4 in Paris.
The world No 2, who has a chance of leapfrogging Djokovic at the top of the rankings and equalling Pete Sampras’s record of ending six seasons as the No 1, knew Chardy would be a tough nut to crack and he didn’t disappoint at Bercy.
Chardy, who beat Federer in their previous encounter at the Rome Masters earlier this year, saved two match points in the second set. The second-seeded Swiss, however, claimed the deciding set in more comfortable fashion.
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