Andy Murray is only one win away from clinching the number one ranking, after the three time defending champion Novak Djokovic was bundled out by the in form Croat Marin Cilic in straight sets. Murray will have his work cut out as he plays the dangerous Milos Raonic of Canada whom he beat in an epic five set semi final at the Australian Open in Melbourne this year, while Cilic takes on the Texan John Isner in the first semi final.
All four semi finalists will be trying to win their maiden title in Bercy, three of them are bidding to attain their career best ranking. The most significant of the three – Andy Murray – staved off London aspirant Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 7-6(9), 7-5 in just under two hours.
Neither player had a break point chance in the first set, while Murray broke service twice in the second set and squandered one break. Berdych would have been the eighth player to qualify for the season ending finale in London had he won against Murray. That will mean that Dominic Thiem of Austria will make his maiden appearance at the O2 arena.
Cilic, who had already sealed the seventh spot on Thursday after edging out David Goffin of Belgium, took a winless 14 match record against the Serb Novak Djokovic, but immediately broke the top seed to lead 2-0. Djokovic would get the break back, however Cilic won his first set in over two years, on his second set point in the tenth game to take the first set 6-4. Just when it looked like Djokovic would take the match into the decisive third set, Cilic struck back and eventually took the set into a tie-break winning it 7-2. His winning scoreline was 6-4,7-6(2) serving nine aces in the process.
Cilic takes on the big American John Isner against whom he is unbeaten in six attempts, and if he reaches the final will be ranked sixth in the world. The 31 year old Isner won a high quality all American quarter final against Jack Sock 7-6(6), 4-6, 6-4 and now stands the chance to finish in the top 20 for the seventh consecutive season if he wins the first semi final on Saturday. He will also finish as the highest ranked American for the fifth year in a row ahead of Sock this year. Isner would also move ahead of Ivo Karlovic in the aces category, Isner is placed second with 1,123 aces while Karlovic has struck 1,131 aces in 2016.
In the fourth match of the day Milos Raonic ended the slim hopes of local favourite Jo Wilfred Tsonga wjith a 6-2, 7-6(4) win in an hour and thirty one minutes. Raonic had nine aces and saved the break points he faced and converted on two out of the three chances he had in the first set.
Murray has a 8-3 record against Raonic and has won all five of their meetings this year. The Canadian has nothing to loose and should he win the title on Sunday would replace Stanislas Wawrinka as the third ranked player. Murray trails Djokovic by 235 points and will get 240 points for a semi final win, and can extend that lead to 405 points with a win in the final. The year end number one ranking though will only be settled at the World Tour Final.
The following is the semi final line up with my pick mentioned first:-
Marin Cilic (9) (47-20) v. John Isner (-) (32-20); Cillic leads 6-0
Andy Murray (2) (72-9) v. Milos Raonic (4) (50-15) ; Murray leads 8-3.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]