US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro edged into the last four Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and in the process knocked Andy Murray out of the tournament at the O2 Arena.
Del Potro overcame World No.1 Roger Federer 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 to finish second in their group and despite losing to Murray on the opening day he ended up losing fewer games by virtue of breaking Federer’s serve to go 5-3 ahead in the final set before sealing the match.
At the end of the match there was a delay while organisers worked out who would go through but eventually it was ruled that Del Potro finished second in their group behind Federer with Murray exiting having finished third.
This is the first time that Del Potro, who defeated Federer in the US Open final in the summer, has made the semi-finals of the end of season event and he looks capable of going all the way.
Wimbledon champion Federer seemed on the brink of going out when he lost the first set and was down in the second set tie-break as a two-sets defeat would have sealed his exit.
But the Swiss master produced some of his best tennis to win the second set and stay in the tournament.
Murray went into the match having beaten Verdasco seven times from eight meetings, including in Valencia earlier this month, where he went on to win his sixth title of the year.
And he wrapped up the first set after finally breaking the Spaniard in the ninth game. He had plenty of chances in the second set, too, but Verdasco consistently reserved his best tennis for saving break points.
The seventh seed, who was looking for his first win at the end-of-season tournament after narrow losses to Federer and Del Potro, then levelled the match in the second-set tie-break.
With no breaks of serve in the decider, a tie-break was needed to settle the match, and this time it was Murray who came good when Verdasco — not for the first time - missed with a volley.
Reflecting on a statistic that saw him win only one of 13 break points, the world number four said: “He played ridiculously on the big points in the second set, and to a certain extent in the third
set as well. He served huge. His second serve, which in previous matches I've been able to attack, he was even acing off that, putting me in really tough positions.
“When someone hits close to the line on these courts it's tough because the ball stays very low. He was able to dictate the points. But I stayed strong.”
After winning a topsy-turvy opening match against Del Potro then losing to Federer in three sets, Murray was pleased with his overall performance.
“I think, from the back of the court, I was striking the ball the best I had done today,” he said.
“I didn't make many errors and hit quite a lot of winners, too. I served a lot of aces.
“I didn't think I played a poor match at all. I think I gave him maybe one break point the whole match. So I didn't give him too many chances.”
Verdasco, who could still have reached the last four had he beaten Murray and Del Potro lost to Federer, felt he acquitted himself well on his first appearance at the prestigious event.
“Of course it is tough when you play well and you lose,” he said.
“And also when you have, in all three matches, come close to winning. But the positive thing is against the number one, four and five in the world, I was really close. So that means that I have the level to win against these guys. I just need to improve a little bit more my tennis and maybe next year I will win these matches.”