LONDON -- Roger Federer handed Andy Murray one of the worst losses of his career on Thursday, beating the Brit 6-0, 6-1 in 56 minutes to go undefeated in round robin play at the ATP World Tour Finals. After Kei Nishikori beat David Ferrer 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 earlier in the day, Murray needed to beat Federer in straight sets to secure a place in the semifinals. Instead, Murray lost 11 consecutive games before getting on the board to avoid the first double-bagel loss of his career and Federer quickly closed out the win. As a result, Federer qualifies first out of Group B and Nishikori, in his tournament debut, qualifies second. The semifinals will be played on Saturday.
Needless to say, it was a disappointing end to Murray's season, which began under a cloud of injury after he underwent season-ending back surgery last fall. He was still able to make the semifinals at the French Open and put together a strong run through the fall season -- playing six consecutive weeks and winning three titles -- to guarantee a top eight finish to the year.
But the gap between him and the game's best remains a large one. He finishes the year going 0-9 against Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal. Against Federer on Thursday night, he won just eight points in the first set and finished the match with 21 unforced errors to just seven winners. Federer was his solid and relentless self -- he posted 12 winners to 12 unforced errors and never got broken.
"He played exceptionally well. I mean, I can say I'm disappointed with my level tonight. But if I played well, he probably still would have won anyway," said Murray, who will finish the season ranked no higher than No. 6. "A lot can change in a matter of weeks and months in tennis," he said. "Roger is a good example of that. Obviously last year he was having some struggles and some tough times with his body and whatnot. A lot of questions were asked about him. He's responded and gone into the last tournament of the year with an opportunity to get to No. 1."
After the match, Federer commented on the surface of the courts and what it felt like to be up 6-0, 5-0 against one of his toughest opponents. "I think the surface here doesn't forgive much. I think if there's a slight difference of the level from the baseline, hard to get out of it. We've seen it all week. The serve doesn't have that much impact," he said. "At the end I was happy I didn't win the second to last game to be quite honest."
Murray said he'll likely get back onto the practice court sooner than he has in years past to put in the hard work to get his game where it needs to be by the time the season starts in January.
Earlier in the day, Nishikori put himself on the brink of qualifying after beating David Ferrer to go 2-1 in Group B. Ferrer stepped in after Milos Raonic withdrew before the match citing a leg injury. Nishikori's three set win put Federer into the semifinals for the 12th time in his career.
Leave it to the always prepared and always motivated Spaniard Ferrer to help deliver the best match of the tournament so far. Heading into Thursday, all eight singles matches ended in straight-forward straight set wins. Ferrer missed out on qualifying for the tournament after losing to Nishikori two weeks ago in Bercy, but he remained prepared onsite as an alternate. He got the nod on Thursday when Raonic ruled himself unfit to play.
Raonic was making his ATP Finals debut this week, and he leaves the tournament winless and hobbled, after suffering a tear in his leg muscle during his last match against Murray. "I was consistently told with this is if I was to step out on court, I'd sort of be walking a tightrope where I can play obviously not at 100%, but with a significant risk of losing up to six to eight weeks if things go badly," Raonic said. "So losing six to eight weeks of solely rehab sort of means you lose 12 weeks of getting back into shape and everything, those are definitely significant factors in my decision."
Nishikori had beaten Ferrer in five of their eight career matches, including all three of their matches this season -- all of which went three sets. Again on Thursday, Nishikori had to raise his level to fend off the relentless Spaniard after a first set loss. Nishikori led by a break in the first set at 4-3 but proceeded to play three poor games to lose the set 6-4.
But Nishikori never panicked. Confidence is an easy thing to tap when you've beaten nearly everyone on tour and have lost a decisive set just twice the entire season. He pounced to an early break in the second set and steadily improved his game as the match went on. After securing the second set to force a third, Nishikori found his best tennis of the tournament. He was sublime in the final frame, taking the ball early and keeping Ferrer on the run. Nishikori finished with 41 winners to 37 unforced errors, while Ferrer hit 14 winners to 19 unforced. The only black mark for Nishikori was his six double faults.
Group A will be decided on Friday, when Djokovic plays Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka plays Marin Cilic. If Djokovic beats Berdych he will clinch the year-end No. 1 ranking.
This post will be updated.