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Tennis

Murray stutters past Raonic as Djokovic eases into ATP World Tour showdown

Novak Djokovic beat Kei Nishikori in straight sets.
Novak Djokovic beat Kei Nishikori in straight sets. Reuters/Aly Song

Andy Murray put his fans into the wringer on Saturday afternoon and turned the handle slowly. Very slowly. It took the world number one nearly four hours to dispose of Milos Raonic and advance to the final at the ATP World Tour Finals for the first time

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It finished 5-7 7-6 7-6. It was his ninth victory over Raonic in 12 matches. None though have been so close. “It was a hard match physically,” said Murray after the contest which lasted three hours and 38 minutes. “It was pretty stressful. I was a set and a break down.”
 

Raonic took the opener after 49 minutes. The 25-year-old Canadian seemed more than happy to trade baseline exchanges with Murray and appeared the more likely of the two to unleash a huge groundstroke winner. His first set incisiveness was based on 12 successful ventures to the net. And it was no surprise when he broke Murray to lead 2-1 in the second set.
 

But within minutes, Murray had hit back. And the partisans in the O2 Arena were energised. Murray clenched his fist and grimaced. There was belief. The people’s champion might be down. But he was far from defeated.
 

In the tie-break, Murray squandered a 5-3 lead but after having been reeled in, a forehand volley gave him set point. Are you world number one? the O2 asked. A Murray service winner answered the question. And the men were level.
 

The deciding set between Murray and Raonic on Saturday, 19 November, 2016, ought to be rerun in future to budding stars as a lesson in how not to close out a match or exploit a reprieve.

Murray broke to lead 5-4 but failed to consolidate his advantage. Raonic then lost his service to trail 5-6 ceding  Murray a second chance to serve for victory. Murray declined.
 

After three hours and 23 minutes they entered a tie break. Murray had three separate match points before Raonic engineered one of his own at 9-8. Murray saved that with a volley at the net before setting up his fourth with a service winner.

A tired forehand from Raonic Murray the match. “I’m proud of the way I stayed positive,” said Raonic after the epic. “I kept fighting through and I managed to turn it around twice at the end of the third set and in the tie-break.”

Murray will face second seed Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final. The 29-year-old Serb annihilated the fifth seed Kei Nishikori 6-1 6-1 in 65 minutes in the second semi-final on Saturday night.
 

Djokovic, who ruled the circuits for 122 weeks, will regain the world number one spot after a two week interruption if he wins the end of season championships for a fifth successive year.
 

The arena will be against him. But the Serb is fresh. And motivated. “I can’t predict the result against Andy,” he said. “The only thing I can do is get myself in the right state of mind and try to perform as well as I did against Kei.”

 

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