March 10, 2014
Djokovic passes Berdych test, woe for Murray
World number one Novak Djokovic clawed his way to victory over Tomas Berdych in his opening match at the ATP World Tour Finals on Monday but Andy Murray's prospects look bleak after a groin injury flared up in his shock defeat by David Ferrer.
Djokovic, who arrived in London with question marks over his right shoulder, showed all the qualities that have made him the year's dominant force, digging himself out of trouble to win 3-6 6-3 7-6 after saving a match point deep in the decider.
Murray, the form player in the world since the US Open, was tipped by many to win the title in London but after a 6-4 7-5 defeat to bustling Spaniard Ferrer he faces an uphill battle to reach the semi-finals even if he can continue.
The 24-year-old Briton said he was "gutted" after the injury he sustained while practising for the season-ender hindered him during an error-strewn two-hour defeat.
"Yeah, I mean, I had a problem with my groin. I have to see how it goes for tomorrow," Murray, who had never lost to Ferrer on any other surface than the Spaniard's favourite clay, told reporters. "I'll decide tomorrow whether or not I keep playing. If it wasn't slams or this event, I wouldn't have played."
While the atmosphere in the O2 was a little flat as Murray laboured, it was electrifying in the night session as 17,500 fans, many waving Serbian and Czech flags, crammed into the huge arena that will stage the event until 2013.
After losing the opening four games Djokovic gradually found his range although he still had to recover from 4-2 down in the decider before Berdych finally ran out of firepower.
"That was the toughest match since the U.S. Open," Djokovic, who won three of the year's majors and grabbed the number one ranking from Rafa Nadal, told reporters. "I wasn't very satisfied with my performance but a win is a win."
Despite having blue tape plastered over his shoulder, Djokovic said he had suffered no recurrence of the injury that forced him to withdraw from the Paris Masters this month.
"Something I'm happy about is my condition," he said. "I haven't felt any pain in my shoulder. I'm exhausted because it was three hours but I feel physically fit."
After levelling the match with consecutive aces at the end of the second set, Djokovic found himself in trouble again in the third against the raw power of Berdych.
However, the Czech's tendency to crack at key moments returned to haunt him. He let Djokovic off after forging a 4-2 lead and then when a Djokovic double fault presented him with a match point at 5-6 he buried a forehand into the net.
Another slew of Berdych forehand errors in the tiebreak, one of them worthy of a park hacker, gave Djokovic breathing space and he sealed victory after two hours 38 minutes.
"Maybe I was too risky (on match point), but that's how I play," Berdych, who is due to face Murray next on Wednesday, told reporters. "That was my chance to end the match."
It would have been scant consolation for Berdych but the quality on display in the evening was far superior to that served up by Murray and Ferrer.
Murray led in both sets but never looked comfortable despite winning all five of his previous hardcourt clashes with the 29-year-old baseline slugger.
There were some occasional flashes of brilliance but too few to prevent Ferrer earning a deserved victory.
The Scot made 44 unforced errors as he attempted to break down Ferrer's formidable defences and needed treatment at the end of the first set.
Murray briefly appeared to have got back on track when he broke to lead 2-0 in the second set and again to move 4-3 ahead but it proved a false dawn as the mistakes returned.
At 5-6, Ferrer reached match point with a nervy forehand volley which clipped the line and he converted at the first attempt, punishing his opponent for an ill-advised drop shot.
"I think it was important to start with a win," Ferrer told reporters. "I think he had some little problems, but not too many strong problems because he played the whole match."
Nadal and Roger Federer, both of whom won their opening Group B matches on Sunday, face each other for the 26th time in a mouthwatering evening session on Tuesday.