Seething Andy Murray needed nearly three and a half hours to win against Kei Nishikori, posting an error-filled 6-7 (9-11), 6-4, 6-4 group win on Wednesday to keep his hopes of retaining the top ATP ranking alive at the World Tour Finals.
The contest was the longest over three sets in year-end finals history.
Murray, wearing combat olive green and black, spent much of the match screaming at his box, swearing at himself and trying to keep his nose in front of Asia’s top player.
Murray will now need some help in a later group match, with a win Marin Cilic over Stan Wawrinka sending the Scot into the weekend semi-finals at the year-end event.
Rival and number two Novak Djokovic is already there, after winning his second group match with one to go.
Murray was ill-tempered from the start against Nishikori, chasing a season finish of third.
Murray was broken while serving for victory in the third set before wrapping up the win on his next opportunity.
“I fought really hard, he was making me run a lot,” Murray said. “I started to get some free points on my serve. I was making him work hard and managed to get enough breaks to win.”
Murray lost the opening set in 90 minutes as he failed to convert on a set point in the 12th game and squandered two more in the ensuing tiebreaker. Nishikori finally converted for the lead on his fifth set-point.
Murray began the second set with a break as the Scot woke up to his predicament. He lost the lead in the eighth game as Nishikori broke back but grabbed a fresh one a game later, levelling at a set each.
Nishikori mounted a third-set fight-back from 2-5 down, earning back a break against Murray before taking the loss with a backhand long.
“This is what you work for, these big matches, moments like this,” Murray said, “I’ve played Kei three times in 2016 and all of our matches have gone long.
“I feel OK right now, but it’s the following day when you feel stiff and sore. Hopefully I have three days left this season, I’ll do my best to try and get through as many matches as I can.”
Murray has extended his winning streak to 21 straight after winning the first two matches at a year-end event for the first time in his career.
The year-end top-ranking battle between Murray and Djokovic will be decided the player who advances the furthest this week.
Murray’s best result in the season finale has been three semi-finals; the win puts Murray 14-2 over Nishikori.
Source: DPA, Daily Trust