Tuesday November 11th, 2014

LONDON -- Roger Federer put himself on the verge of qualifying for his 12th semifinal at the ATP World Tour Finals with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Kei Nishikori to go 2-0 in Group B. Andy Murray kept his hopes of qualifying for the semifinals alive with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Milos Raonic in the evening session. With his two straight set wins, it would take a perfect storm for Federer not to qualify on Thursday. Federer will qualify unless Murray and Nishikori post incredibly lopsided straight set wins on Thursday to post a better percentage of games won. 

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It was another solid performance from Federer, who backed up his straight set win over Raonic on Sunday with a clean win over another dangerous young opponent. Nishikori had beaten his idol earlier this year on the hard courts of Miami, but the 24-year-old was unable to summon anything close to his best game. His vaunted backhand failed him time after time and though he was able to maintain an offensive position throughout the match, he continued to misfire when trying to take control of points. He hit 30 unforced errors in the match to just 15 winners, while Federer kept a far cleaner sheet with 17 winners to 18 unforced errors. 

"He took the important points, all the important points," Nishikori said. "Maybe he didn't play maybe hundred percent, but all the tough points he played good serve, good points. He didn't give me a chance to come back."

Federer got the early break in each set and ran away with each set. The few chances Nishikori had to get back into the match came and went. He was 0 for 3 on break points, while Federer broke him three times. Federer has yet to be broken in the tournament, saving all seven break points he's faced. Playing in his record 13th consecutive year, Federer still has a slim chance to overtake Novak Djokovic for the No. 1 ranking. With every win he keeps the pressure on Djokovic, who can clinch the ranking if he goes 3-0 in Group A. 

Here is how the battle for No. 1 will play out

- If reaches the SF with a 3-0 RR record, he will be guaranteed No. 1 regardless of Federer’s results in London and the Davis Cup final. 
If Djokovic goes 2-1 in RR play and does not progress beyond the SF, Federer will need to win the title undefeated (5-0) and win one live singles rubber in the Davis Cup final.
Federer could earn a maximum 225 points in the Davis Cup final (Djokovic drops 150 points from last year’s Davis Cup)

The lack of drama in the match continued the string of five consecutive lopsided wins to start the ATP Finals. Since Nishikori's 6-4 6-4 win over Murray to start the tournament on Sunday, five of the six sets played have ended 6-1. Monday's Group A matches were shocking in their brevity. Stan Wawrinka beat Tomas Berdych 6-1, 6-1 in 58 minutes and Djokovic followed that up with a 6-1, 6-1 thrashing of Marin Cilic in 56 minutes. Federer dismissed any talk of fatigue being a factor in the scorelines. He thinks it's the surface. 

"I think it's very much a game of movement and the baseline game," Federer said. "Whoever's better from the baseline has the upper hand, then dominates.  I think that's why we're seeing heavy scorelines, because it's just hard to serve your way out of trouble. It's almost not possible time and time again."

Murray stays alive in seminfinal contention with win over Nishikori

With his back against the wall after losing to Nishikori in straight sets in his first match, Murray came out much sharper against Raonic on Tuesday evening. The Brit had never beaten Raonic in a best-of-three format and lost their last three non-Slam matches. Murray played far from his best but benefited from Raonic's two biggest weapons -- his serve and forehand -- being offline. Raonic served at just 37 percent in the first set (he would get that up to 52 percent for the match) and sprayed 23 of his 33 unforced errors off the forehand. After pocketing the first set, Murray looked to be in control of the second after earning an early break. But a slopping service game handed the break right back to Raonic at 2-all. Raonic began to serve better and Murray let his frustration get the better of him. 

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The second set looked headed for a tiebreak until Murray was able to get the break he needed at with Raonic serving at 5-all. On break point, Murray hit a perfectly dipped backhand pass that handcuffed Raonic, who couldn't get the pick-up volley back, and then served out the match. Murray finished with 10 winners and 17 unforced errors, while Raonic hit 25 winners to 33 unforced. 

The straight set win means all four men in Group B still have a mathematical chance of qualifying for the semifinals.

Here's how the scenarios look for Thursday, courtesy of Let, Second Serve:

Group B Qualification Scenarios
 
  Nishikori in 2 Nishikori in 3 Raonic in 3 Raonic in 2
Federer in 2

1. Federer

2. Nishikori

1. Federer

2. Nishikori

1. Federer

2. Nishikori

1. Federer

2. Game ratio

Federer in 3

1. Federer

2. Nishikori

1. Federer

2. Nishikori

1. Federer

2. Nishikori

1. Federer

2. Murray

Murray in 3

1. Federer

2. Nishikori

1. Federer

2. Nishikori

1. Murray

2. Federer

1. Murray

2. Federer

Murray in 2 Determined by Game Ratio

1. Murray

2. Federer

1. Murray

2. Federer

1. Murray

2. Federer

This post will be updated.

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