Murray targets showdown with Novak for No.1 ranking
The defence of his World No.1 ranking is inspiring Andy Murray to new heights.
It has taken the Scot eight years to begin a campaign at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals with two successive round-robin victories and he finally achieved that here in London with a hard-earned 6-7, 6-4, 6-4 win over Kei Nishikori.
The 26-year-old Japanese, who was the last player to knock Murray out of a tournament when he beat him in the quarter-finals of this summer's US Open, pushed the Scot to the limit but was unable to deny him his 21st victory in succession.
Novak Djokovic, who has already booked his place in Saturday's semi-finals, can still take back the World No.1 ranking by winning the title here for the fifth year in a row, but there is a fire in Murray's eyes as he continues his defence of the position he took from the Serb last week.
Murray faces Stan Wawrinka in his final round-robin contest tomorrow to determine the semi-final line-up.
In last night's second singles match Wawrinka beat Marin Cilic 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-3).
The tournament could be heading for a dream final on Sunday between Murray and Djokovic which would also determine the year-end World No.1 ranking.
Murray agreed that many within the sport would see that as "the perfect way to finish the year".
He added: "For me, and I'm sure for Novak, both of our goals would be to try to win the event. For him, whether that's by beating me or someone else, or for me if it's winning against Novak or another player, it doesn't change for us as players.
"But for the event and everyone interested in tennis, I'm sure that would be the most exciting way to finish the year."
For whatever reason, Murray has not always played his best tennis at this tournament and he needed to grit his teeth to find a way past Nishikori, who has been a thorn in his side this year.
Murray beat the World No.5 in five sets after nearly five hours in the Davis Cup in Birmingham in March, while Nishikori reversed the result over five sets and nearly four hours at the US Open in September.
On this occasion a match, which began with a first set littered with mistakes by both men, blossomed into a gripping contest. It took three hours and 20 minutes, which made it the longest hard-court match played over three sets anywhere this year. It was also eight minutes longer than the previous longest recorded match here, when Murray lost to Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals in 2010.
Considering what consistently good ball strikers Murray and Nishikori are, the first set was a surprising collection of mistakes and missed opportunities. It took 85 minutes and featured 40 unforced errors - 20 by each man - and only 25 winners.
Nishikori went 6-3 up in the tie-break, only for Murray to level at 6-6. The set finally ended when the Scot hit a loose forehand wide of the line.
Murray twice went break point down when serving for the second set before closing it out.
In the deciding set Murray served for the match at 5-2, but the Scot made no mistake at the second time of asking, serving out to love to complete the victory.
Murray said afterwards that he felt tired but expected to feel even worse in the morning.
"About 10 or 12 hours afterwards the body starts to stiffen up," he said.
"I'm sure I'll be a bit sore. But I get a day's rest."
Gael Monfils, who has been suffering with a rib injury, has pulled out and will be replaced by David Goffin, who will take on Djokovic in the Serb's final round-robin match today.