Chalkdust Chronicles: Grey Day for Murray as he drops first round to newcomer Nishikori
(November 9, 2014) LONDON – Any fears that Andy Murray might have had about having to win fins back were answered with rousing cheers as the home-grown champion opened the day’s proceedings at the Barclays ATP world Tour Finals.
It looked to be starting so promisingly too. While Kei Nishikori starting nervously and Murray looking to be just that more solid, the poppy-sporting Brit drew first blood with a break to more rapturous cheering. However that was soon muted as Nishikori started generating a lot more pace and hustling Murray more, breaking him to love straight away.
It was a wasted opportunity of a battle that saw Murray squander a couple of breakpoints and from there Nishikori seemed to take heart, dealing the final break to seal the first set.
Maybe there is something about the day matches that tends to leave the atmosphere a bit flat, but Nishikori stunned them into silence racing into a 3-0 lead.
British hopes were roused a little when Murray stemmed the flow winning three games in a row to level at 4-4 in the second set and it looked as though the day crowd were going to get their money’s worth, but almost immediately the same lapse in concentration saw Murray broken, as Nishikori came through his London debut 6-4 6-4.
Murray had little choice but to be quite clinical with his review of the match.
“I didn’t serve well enough. He was able to dictate a lot of points, especially behind my second serve. Both of us struggled at the beginning of the match. The conditions, when you play with no one in there, it seemed like it was pretty full today. It’s obviously warmer, which then makes it quicker, the ball becomes a bit more lively.
“He definitely started playing better at the end of the first set and started feeling a bit more comfortable with those conditions.
Of course the benefit of the World Tour finals is that there are still two more round robin matches to go, but in a close group where it is maybe not as clear cut as perhaps the group of three Slam winners, Murray wasted a valuable chance to make life easy on himself.
“It’s harder to qualify when you lose your first match. But unlike the other events, you still have a chance to go through,” Murray said. “If this were anywhere else, I would be out of the tournament. You need to try to forget about today, work on some things tomorrow, and hopefully play better on Tuesday.”
For Nishikori it is a great start to cap a fantastic year for the record breaking Japanese player, who has battled to stay fit, despite having to call the trainer out briefly at the end of the first set.
“The court is same as Paris, so I was little bit used to playing this surface,” Nishikori said. “But the stadium is huge. You know, I try not to look up too much [and] try to stay focus. Maybe when I walk into the stadium, I was nervous, but same time I was really excited to play with this crowd. I was really happy that I played good tennis on this situation.”
Nishikori in the past has been almost a fragile little flower, so it has been pleasing to see him weather several weeks of tough competition, and he explained how he had improved in that area.
“I’m spending more time on the gym and also on the courts, too, you know, more practice during off‑season. Even when I’m on the tour, I try to do little bit of rehab and little bit of training. Maybe that’s one of the reason. I had couple injuries this year, you know, I had to retire couple matches, important matches. But I’ve been getting really strong, my body. Yeah, in US Open I played five sets. But I can able to finish seven matches first time, so I think I’m very strong physically.”
But with that comes the need to become tougher mentally, and given how shaky Nishikori’s first serve at times wandering around the cavern that is the O2, it was a testament to his improved strength of focus that he did not crumble when Murray fought back in the second set.
“I was [trying] to stay calm, even he was playing little better, you know, start playing little more consistent.
“First time I play Roger, couldn’t play anything ’cause I respect too much. I wasn’t go for win actually. I was just, you know, play tennis against my idol. That was one of the problem I had. But after couple years, I got mentally strong. I have to be strong to beat them. Maybe that’s one of the reason we Asia players has to be really strong. You have to believe yourself.”
It will be the turn of Group A to take to the court on Monday, with Group B playing again on Tuesday.