Novak Djokovic is the only player in the eight man field to have secured a berth in the semi final at the season ending finale at the O2 arena in London and now needs to win only two matches on Saturday and Sunday to ensure he finishes the World number One ranked player for a fifth time.
The second seed from Serbia won in two tie-breaks against Milos Raonic of Canada who will now play a virtual quarter final on Thursday in the evening session against first time qualifier Dominic Thiem of Austria. Meanwhile, in the John McEnroe group, Andy Murray survived a three set battle against Kei Nishikori of Japan, while the reigning U.S. Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland kept his hopes alive after edging out the 2014 U.S. Open Marin Cilic of Croatia, also in two tie-break sets.
In the first match on Tuesday in the Ivan Lendl group between two first time qualifiers, the Austrian Dominic Thiem got the better of the Frenchman Gael Monfils in three sets to register his maiden win at the event. The winning scoreline was 6-3, 1-6, 6-4. While Thiem could not save any of the three break point chances, he converted on three out of the eight break points to seal the win in one hour and twenty nine minutes.
In the evening session, Djokovic survived 14 aces from Raonic to take down the Canadian in a keenly fought encounter. While Djokovic won 85 points in the entire two hour fourteen minute long match, Raonic won 83 points. The scoreline was 7-6(6), 7-6(5) in favour of the Serb who improved to 8-0 against the 25 year old Raonic who stands a chance to end the year with a career high third ranking.
Djokovic next faces David Goffin of Belgium who steps in as a replacement for Monfils, who has withdrawn from the event. That match will be of academic interest. However the eleventh ranked Goffin will make his maiden appearance at the event against Djokovic who has won all four previous meetings between the two.
In contrast, the evening session match will be a winner takes all and loser goes home as both Raonic and Thiem will attempt to secure their second win of the event which will guarantee a semi final spot from the Ivan Lendl group. If Djokovic loses in straight sets, both Raonic and Thiem can top the group provided they win the match in straight sets.
In what was the longest best of three sets match at the year-end championships lasting three hours and twenty one minutes, Murray saved five set points before going down 9-11 in the first set tie breaker. Nishikori hit two double faults while serving at 6-3 in the tie-break and also had to save two set points.
Murray though got an early break in the second set which he won 6-4 to force a decider. The Dunblane native went up two breaks and led 5-1 in the third set, but the 26 year old Nishikori who had upset Murray in five sets at the U.S. Open got one break back before Murray served out the match. The scoreline was 6-7(9), 6-4, 6-4.
In the second match of the day played in the evening session on Wednesday, the top Swiss Wawrinka kept his semi final hopes alive after a 7-6(3), 7-6(3) win over the Croat Marin Cilic who is eliminated from the race for the semi final spot. It was also his fifth loss at this event where he lost all three round robin matches in 2014 which was his debut at the event. Murray will play Wawrinka in the opening match on Friday, while Nishikori plays Cilic in what will be a rematch of the U.S. Open final they played in 2014.
Following is the line up for the 3rd round robin matches with my pick mentioned first:-
Novak Djokovic (2) (63-8) v. David Goffin (11) (49-24); Djokovic leads 4-0
Milos Raonic (4) (51-16) v. Dominic Thiem (8) (58-22); Raonic leads 1-0
Andy Murray (1) (75-9) v. Stanislas Wawrinka (3) (46-17); Murray leads 9-7
Marin Cilic (7) (47-23) v. Kei Nishikori (5) (58-19); Nishikori leads 7-5
Following is the latest group standings after second round robin group matches :-
Ivan Lendl Group
Novak Djokovic 2-0 (4-1 in sets)
Milos Raonic 1-1 (3-2 in sets)
Dominic Thiem 1-1 (3-3 in sets)
Gael Monfils 0-2 (0-4 in sets)
John McEnroe Group
Andy Murray 2-0 (4-1 in sets)
Kei Nishikori 1-1 (3-2 in sets)
Stanislas Wawrinka 1-1 (2-2 in sets)
Marin Cilic 0-2 (0-4 in sets)
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]