BEIJING, China -- No. 1 Novak Djokovic continued his China Open domination, defeating No. 11 Andy Murray 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the final for the fifth time in his career. Djokovic has now won six of his last seven matches against Murray and extended his undefeated record in Beijing to 23-0. He will play No. 6 Tomas Berdych in Sunday's final.
As has been the case in their 21 previous meetings, it was another physical match between Djokovic and Murray, exacerbated even further by the heavy conditions on a cool and damp day. The heavy balls combined with the slow court made outright winners difficult for both men. While Murray tried to strike with fair number of flat forehands, his backhand let him down. He finished with just 7 winners to 22 unforced errors, while Djokovic was able to dictate play with 19 winners and 21 unforced errors. The Serb was able to secure the only break in the first set after a grueling nine-minute deuce game at 3-4 and then served out the set after 42 minutes.
The second set was a more topsy-turvy affair. Murray was flat to start the set and struggled to win points. He fell behind an early break but slowly reeled Djokovic back in. Murray broke back to 3-all and then held his serve to lead at 4-3. Djokovic was struggling with his rhythm and it looked as though Murray had pulled the momentum back. But Djokovic reeled off the last four games of the match thanks to a change of balls. "I felt like when we changed the ball, which was exactly that point, 4-3 second set for him, I felt like I just got the better striking zone in all my shots," Djokovic said. "I think I lost one point in the last three games. I felt like I could swing through the ball."
After four matches in Beijing, Djokovic feels he's playing much better than during the summer hard court season, where he lost in the U.S. Open semifinals to Kei Nishikori. He's aiming to finish the season the same way he finished last season -- by going undefeated after the U.S. Open. Somehow the conditions in China have always suited Djokovic, but even he admits it's difficult, partly because of Beijing's poor air quality.
"I do find it different from most of the hard court tournaments that we play on," the four-time champion said. "There's a lot of pollution obviously. It does have an effect on the speed of the play. I think it's slower conditions than most of the U.S. Open Series hard court tournaments that we have different balls also. It's just pretty slow. If the balls are used, especially if the two players are kind of exchanging a lot of rallies and playing long, long points, as it happened midway through the second set where just the ball wasn't going anywhere, you have to kind of create, you have to penetrate through the ball each time. It doesn't come to you."
As for Murray, he heads to next week's Shanghai Masters riding some momentum despite the loss. "My body's responded pretty good to playing an eighth match in ten days, so that's positive," he said. "I got a lot of matches, some momentum. Obviously, I would have liked to have done a little bit better here. But I lost to the No. 1 player in the world. There's no disgrace in that."
With Nishikori and Milos Raonic advancing to the final at the Japan Open on Saturday, Murray remains in the thick of the qualifying race for the ATP World Tour Finals in London. With his run this week, he will move up to No. 9 in the race. There are two ATP Masters events left to play and the players gunning to qualify can all make big moves over the next few weeks.
"The reason I came here was to try to get some momentum, try to win some more matches, get into the latter stages, play against the best players, and get used to playing at that level consistently again between now and the end of the year," Murray said. "But if I play well, I'll give myself a chance at getting to the O2. When I step on the court, that really shouldn't be something I'm thinking about."