It was perhaps no surprise that he bypassed the first and smallest of those tournaments this year. He had, after all, put together a run to the final of Wimbledon, to Olympic gold—and silver in the mixed doubles—and to his first Grand Slam title in New York.
So his return to the tour came at the Japan Open where he extended his winning run to 16 before facing the No7 seed, the pugnacious Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss had beaten Murray four times before, most memorably in the US Open in 2010, but since then, Murray had beaten Wawrinka in Shanghai in 2011 and in the Olympics this year.
Murray looked initially as though this would be as straightforward as his Olympic win: He broke in the opening game to take the first set with the same 6-2 score.
But as always, the Swiss proved to be a very tough opponent. In the second set, Wawrinka came back at Murray, just as he did in Shanghai last year, and levelled the match with the same 6-3 score. It was Murray’s first dropped set of the week and stung him into action.
Despite his first serve remaining below the 60 percent mark throughout the match and the final set, Murray did not face another break point. After two hours, he took a hard-fought victory, his 50th of the year, 6-2 in the third. It extended his unbroken run in the Far East to 17, his current 2012 run to 10, and earned him a semifinal match-up against the big-hitting Milos Raonic.
The Canadian beat Janko Tipsarevic in a repeat of their three-and-a-quarter-hour Chennai final in January, which went to three tie-breakers. Raonic won again, with the help of 24 aces, 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, to confirm that he will pose a huge challenge to Murray’s hopes of defending his Tokyo title.
Theirs is a fascinating history, too. Until 2012, their paths had never crossed but this year, they have been drawn to face one another four times. However, they only played two of those matches because Murray handed his opponent a walkover in the Miami Masters and Raonic returned the compliment at the Canadian Masters. As for the other two matches, they shared the honours: Raonic won in straight sets on Barcelona’s clay while Murray won in straights in the fourth round of the US Open.
There is, though, more on the line in their semifinal meeting than prize-money and kudos. While Murray has already sealed his place at the World Tour Finals in London—and his defeat of Wawrinka moves him past Rafael Nadal in the race to No3—Raonic is still in the race.
The Canadian is at a career-high ranking of No15, up from 31 at the start of the year, but stands at 14 in the race to London. By reaching the semis, he overtakes John Isner to go to 13. With Richard Gasquet, Juan Monaco and Nicolas Almagro all falling before the quarters in Tokyo and Beijing, winning the title would take Raonic past all of them to No10 in the race.
Elsewhere in the race, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga consolidated his top-eight position with his defeat of Mikhail Youzhny to reach the semis of the China Open in Beijing, while Tipsarevic failed to advance from No9.
Tomas Berdych safely holds his No6 position with his quarterfinal finish in Tokyo. There, he faced a very tricky opponent in the shape of home favourite, No17 Kei Nishikori, who had beaten him in both previous hard-court matches. He did so again with some highly entertaining , fast-moving tennis that showed off the young Japanese man’s full range of skills and footwork in a 7-5, 6-4 victory.
In the semis, he will face Marcos Baghdatis, who beat qualifier Dmitry Tursunov in straight sets. It is the Cypriot’s first semifinal since February and he is chasing his first title since the beginning of 2010. In terms of audience appeal alone, his face-off against Nishikori could be the match of the week.
Race to London
- Novak Djokovic 10,000 (currently at QF stage in Beijing)
- Roger Federer 8,895
- Andy Murray 6,910 (currently at SF stage in Tokyo)
- Rafael Nadal 6,840
- David Ferrer 4,780
- Tomas Berdych 3,720
- Juan Martin del Potro 3,670
- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2,995
- Janko Tipsarevic 2,720
- Nicolas Almagro 2,415
- Juan Monaco 2,330
- Richard Gasquet 2,325
- Milos Raonic 2,125 (currently at SF stage in Beijing)
- John Isner 2,115