Andy Murray - 2011 Shanghai Rolex Masters - Day 7

Murray vs. Ferrer:  Straightforward to the point of pre-ordained are the eight meetings between the Scot and the Spaniard.  While Ferrer has won all of their clashes on clay, Murray has collected all of their encounters on hard courts.  This predictable trajectory extended through a Tokyo semifinal and Beijing final, during which Ferrer’s monochromatic retrieving emboldened the world #3 to swing more freely than against opponents whose offense can damage him. Safe in the awareness that the Spaniard possesses minimal first-strike power, Murray can relax as he maneuvers smoothly through points and waits for the ideal opportunity to finish them.  Only when he grows unfocused or passive can Ferrer threaten him.  More aptly, only in those situations can Ferrer enable Murray to undermine himself with purposeless unforced errors accompanied by mounting negativity.  For two sets of their Australian Open encounter, the Spaniard profited from an edgy Scot to creep within a point of a stranglehold over that semifinal.  Midway through their Shanghai final, moreover, he nearly reversed the momentum of the match simply by staying tenacious as Murray faltered.

Neither player likely would list this skidding, low-bouncing hard court among their preferred surfaces, but Murray’s much more formidable serve should profit more from it than will Ferrer’s underpowered delivery.  Like Djokovic and Berdych, this pair of competitors met in London a year ago, when the home hope routed the Spaniard for the loss of only four games.  A similar result seems plausible, unless Murray still struggles with the weariness that infected his lackluster loss to Berdych in Paris.  Winning the last tournament before Wimbledon and the last tournament before the US Open, he sometimes has peaked too soon during the preparatory phases for key events.  Feasting upon the fatigued, Ferrer rarely fails to force opponents to match his gritty effort.  Since Murray has a losing record against both Berdych and Djokovic, meanwhile, he should consider a victory virtually mandatory to advance from his round-robin group.  As long he stays mentally alert, avoids complacency, and masters his emotions, nothing should prevent him from winning this match in uneventful fashion.

Djokovic vs. Berdych:  Victorious in seven of their eight meetings, the world #1 has won 11 of the last 12 sets that he has contested against the Czech.  When they met in the O2 Arena a year ago, he eased past him without tension. Nevertheless, Berdych captured arguably their most significant meeting in a straight-sets semifinal domination at Wimbledon last year.  Marking the high tide of his career, that match preceded Djokovic’s revival in late 2010, heralded in part by a four-set comeback when the two collided in Davis Cup.  To judge from their recent form, though, Berdych should bring modest optimism into an encounter with the player of the year but certainly not the player of the fall.  Occasionally fallible in indoor tournaments, Djokovic has won his last twelve titles at outdoor venues and has not held a trophy under a roof since 2009.  Although he claims to have recovered from his injuries, he has played no matches against elite competition since the US Open.  By contrast, Berdych arrives fresh from a successful fall tour that culminated by defeating Murray in Paris.  During that extended match, the world #7 displayed a readiness to attack the net that should benefit him even more on this faster surface.  Having retired twice against Djokovic this year, Berdych has acquired a reputation of physical and mental fragility, but he stayed emotionally steady more often than not throughout the rollercoaster against Murray.

Designed to defuse the programmatic Czech’s massive first strike is his opponent’s return and explosive movement, which offer him many more options to win points.  If he can extend his heavy-footed rival laterally, Djokovic can expose Berdych’s modest court coverage and sometimes unwise shot selection.  Known for the depth of his groundstrokes, he should control the majority of the neutral rallies conducted from behind the baseline.  Outside the serve, in fact, Berdych holds an advantage over a fully fit world #1 in no department except perhaps his volleys.  His forehand can smother the Serb at times but not consistently, while his backhand does not rank in the same tier as Djokovic’s unsurpassed weapon, and his return generally lies closer to functional than fearsome.  But the top seed’s reflexes and instincts, central to his game, may hover a few notches below their best in his first match of the week and first match against a top-eight opponent since early September.

Since both players will fancy their chances against Ferrer on this court, a victory on Monday will position the winner on the brink of a semifinal berth.   By contrast, the loser most likely would need to defeat Murray in order to advance.