World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray reached the last four at the ATP World Tour Finals on Friday after slicing through the various permutations of their round-robin group with matching wins at the O2 Arena.
A day that began with all four Group A players in contention for the top two spots ended without the need for calculators as Djokovic beat Czech Tomas Berdych 6-2, 7-6 (8-6) and Murray later overcame Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2, 7-6 (7/3).
Djokovic finished the group stage with an unblemished record to top the standings although the make up of the semi-finals would not be known until the Group B concluded yesterday.
Swiss world No. 2 Roger Federer is already assured of reaching the last four and will top the group and set up a clash with Murray if he beats Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro.
Djokovic’s victory eliminated Berdych, who was left to rue three squandered set points in the second set tiebreak.
It also meant Murray only had to win a set against Tsonga in the evening to progress, a fact his coach Ivan Lendl inadvertently gave away before the match, although the Scot was still not quite sure of all the mathematics.
As it was he rattled through the first set in 33 minutes.
“I didn’t know exactly what I needed to do,” Murray told reporters. “I asked the umpire at the change of ends after the first set whether I was through. He said I was. That was it.”
Djokovic, whose thoughts have been with his father, who has been suffering with a serious illness, dominated the first set with precision hitting and then showed his mettle to fend off a Berdych fightback in front of another sell-out crowd.
“I didn’t want to think about scenarios or calculations, I’ll leave that to other people,” said the 25-year-old, who is looking to win the season-ending showpiece for the second time having won it in Shanghai in 2008. “I try to do my job. I played a really good match. I was fortunate to come back and win in straight sets. This is the first time I’ve won all my matches in the group stage so that’s encouraging for me, so I will try to focus on the semi-final now.”
Fifth seed Berdych can now prepare for the Czech Republic’s Davis Cup final against holders Spain in Prague.
“Next week, it’s another week, another event, another big thing,” Berdych told reporters. “I hope the best moment [of my year] is still to come.”
Djokovic, the year-end No.1 for a second successive season, boasted a 10-1 record against Berdych and it was easy to see why in the first set as he consistently outmaneuvered his opponent.
Berdych likes nothing better than to dictate rallies with his clubbing forehand, but Djokovic’s superior movement and variety kept the Czech powerhouse off balance.
Two service breaks saw Djokovic cruise through the opening set and when he broke again early in the second there looked no way back for Berdych, whose sole win in their previous matches was at Wimbledon in 2010 when he was runner-up to Rafael Nadal.
To his credit Berdych did eventually make Djokovic sweat.
After breaking back he pushed the Serb into a tiebreak and surged 5-1 and then 6-3 ahead.
Typically, the warrior-like Djokovic did not flinch.
He won the next two points on serve and then a stunning service return forced a lumbering Berdych to net.
Djokovic completed victory on his first match point when his opponent ballooned a forehand long after 1 hour, 37 minutes.