LONDON — Needing only one set to join Novak Djokovic in the semis at the ATP finals, Andy Murray delighted the adoring home crowd by winning two.
The U.S. Open and Olympic champion beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2, 7-6 (3) Friday to reach Sunday’s semifinals, hours after Djokovic advanced by beating Tomas Berdych 6-2, 7-6 (6).
Because Djokovic won the early match at the O2 Arena in straight sets, Murray needed to win only one set to ensure his place in the semis. However, he said he was unsure about what would get him through when he took the court, adding that coach Ivan Lendl told him to simply focus on winning and not worry about winning one set.
“I didn’t know exactly what I needed to do. But obviously when he said that, I kind of realized,” Murray said. “Then I just asked the umpire at the change of ends after the first set whether I was through or not. Then he said I was. That was it.”
He won that set easily, too, breaking Tsonga’s serve in the first and third games en route to a 4-0 lead.
Murray had another early break in the second set, but Tsonga rallied to even the set 3-3 and eventually forced the tiebreaker.
“I’m somebody who never gives up,” said Tsonga, who lost all three of his matches. “So sometimes ... you not playing a good tennis, and you keep fighting, you keep believ(ing) in you, and then it comes better and better, and that’s it.”
Murray (2-1) finished second in Group A, while Djokovic (3-0) was first.
The ATP finals is the last tournament of the season, and only for the top eight players in the world. In Group B, six-time champion Roger Federer has already qualified for the semifinals and will face Juan Martin del Potro in his final group match on Saturday. David Ferrer is also in the group and can still qualify for the semifinals, while Janko Tipsarevic has been eliminated.
If Federer wins his group, he would face Murray in the semifinals.
“I think over the years, I got used to playing those guys a couple of times in a week or whatever,” said Murray, who lost to Djokovic in the group stage. “It’s not something that I’m afraid of. I know it’s incredibly difficult and challenging to beat guys like that back-to-back, but it’s do-able.”
Before coming to London, Djokovic lost in the second round of the Paris Masters, and said after that match that he felt a bit deflated physically. But against Berdych, the top-ranked Serb ran all over the court, retrieving ball after ball and making his opponent work hard on nearly every point.
“If you are winning matches, I mean, obviously you feel better,” Djokovic said. “But still, I mean, the fact is that it being the last tournament of the year here in London for most of the players, it is a challenge finding that last drop of energy, physical, mental, to find their best game and go as far as they can.”
Djokovic, who reclaimed the No. 1 ranking at the beginning of the week, broke his Czech opponent twice in the first set and once in the second, though he was broken right back to force the tiebreaker.
Berdych then had his opportunities to win the second set, leading 5-1 and 6-3 in the tiebreaker, but he wasted all three of his set points as Djokovic won five straight to close out the match.
“I had some chances in the tiebreak,” said Berdych, who was eliminated with a 1-2 record. “If I would be able to make it, try to push him for the third set, then maybe get another chance. But this would be just if. It didn’t happen.”
Berdych has only beaten Djokovic once in 12 tries, and that came two years ago on grass in the Wimbledon semifinals. On hard courts, Djokovic is now 10-0 against the hard-hitting Czech.
Besides playing tennis and winning tournaments, Djokovic has also had his father’s health on his mind. On Friday, the top-ranked Serb said his father was getting better but didn’t give any detail as to what the problem is.
“Well, every win means a lot for my family and me,” Djokovic said. “But there are more important things in life, and that’s health. I guess that’s the priority now.”
Despite bowing out from the ATP finals, Berdych still has more tennis to play this season. He will lead the Czech Republic against Spain next week in the Davis Cup final.
“It’s another week, another event, another big thing. So I will try to get ready for that again,” Berdych said. “I hope that the best moment is still to come.”