BEIJING, China -- An in-form Andy Murray will get yet another crack at No. 1 Novak Djokovic, this time in the semifinals of the China Open. Last week Murray won his first title since winning Wimbledon 15 months ago at the Shenzhen Open and on Friday he scored his best win on paper since that historic triumph, defeating U.S. Open champion and No. 9 Marin Cilic 6-1, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.
Is Andy Murray back? That would be overstating it. But he's certainly back on track.
"I feel like I'm harder to beat just now than I was," Murray said, referring to his early season slump. "At the beginning part of the year, I was quite up and down and inconsistent. But I'm starting to build some momentum, get that consistency back." Up until the U.S. Open, Murray's 2014 season had been derailed multiple times by blown leads and an inability to close out matches. Losses to Grigor Dimitrov in Acapulco, Milos Raonic at Indian Wells, Rafael Nadal in Rome and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Toronto were tough to swallow and shook up Murray's confidence.
Now that he's back to his winning ways, the clean ball-striking and clear decision-making is starting to come together. "I haven't played great in every single match the last couple weeks, but I've been winning," Murray said. "That's very important 'cause at the beginning of the year, some of the matches I was playing well and losing, was up in matches and not closing them out, whereas the last couple of weeks, even in some of the matches like against [Juan] Monaco, I didn't play great at the start, but managed to turn it around. The same the first round here, too. That's been the most pleasing thing, is winning matches when you aren't playing well. It's a real test of where your confidence is at."
While Murray is on a seven-match win streak after winning the Shenzhen Open last week, Djokovic is on a 22-0 streak at the China Open. The Serb, a four-time champion, has never lost a match at the China Open and in the four years he's played the event, he's lost just three sets. On Friday he brushed aside Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-4. Though he's wobbled when closing out his last two matches, he's managed to rebound quickly to seal the wins and has not lost a set all week.
Djokovic leads the head-to-head 13-8 and has won their two matches this season. Most recently, Djokovic came away with a four-set win over Murray in the U.S. Open quarterfinals last month. Murray may have lost that match but also believes it is one of the best matches he played this season. In cooler conditions and over the course of a best-of-three match, Murray believes he has a good chance to win if he plays to that level on Saturday.
"Every time I play him it's a huge challenge," Djokovic said. "It's a very physical match. A lot of long rallies, exchanges. I do not expect anything less than that tomorrow."