In what is shaping up to be the new top rivalry in tennis, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray whacked the bounce out of the ball for three more grueling sets Wednesday at the ATP finals.
The top-ranked Serb got the big break when he needed it late in the third set and held off Murray 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 at the O2 Arena in London.
Nestor, partner lose but stay alive
Toronto's Daniel Nestor and Belarusian partner Max Mirnyi stayed in contention for a semifinal berth at the ATP finals on Wednesday despite losing in group play to Wimbledon winners Jonathan Marray and Frederik Nielsen.
The British-Danish combination of Marray and Nielsen beat the second-seeded combination of Nestor and Mirnyi 7-6 (3), 4-6, 12-10 in a match that took one hour 40 minutes.
Nestor and Mirnyi, who won the title undefeated in 2011 during their first season together, are still in the chase to reach the deciding stage of the year-end classic after winning their opening match.
Nestor's team dropped a tight opening set, coming back from a break down to send the set to a tiebreaker. Marray and Nielsen came through in the opener after 49 minutes on the first of three set points with an ace.
Nestor and Mirnyi, the reigning French Open winners, levelled by winning the second. They broke Nielsen on a double-fault for a 3-1 lead.
The final set evolved into a match tiebreak with Nestor and Mirnyi recovering from 3-5 down and saving a match point in the closing stages. But a point later, the evening was over as the home favourites scored the win.
"It was tight all through," Nestor said. "Those guys just got a few more points at the right time.
"We're still in their fighting. There is another match to play here."
Nestor, 40, has played on a championship team at four of the last five editions of the season wrapup. He and Mirnyi will split up next season, with the Canadian teaming with India's Mahesh Bhupathi.
Marray and Nielsen reached the first of the semifinal spots through their victory Wednesday that took one hour 40 minutes.
— The Canadian Press
"Another great match. Another great performance from both of us," said Djokovic, who has known Murray since they were 11 years old. "I didn't expect anything less, other than a tough match that went down the wire and was decided in the last point."
Despite the win, Djokovic still hasn't advanced to the semifinals at the season-ending tournament for the top eight players in the world. Tomas Berdych beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 in the late Group B match, keeping all four players alive in the tournament.
On Friday, Djokovic will face Berdych while Murray will take on Tsonga.
Djokovic is now 4-3 against Murray in 2012, with his biggest win coming in a five-setter in the Australian Open semifinals. But Murray had won two of the previous three, including in the semifinals of the Olympics and in the U.S. Open final — another five-setter.
Overall, Djokovic now leads the third-ranked Murray 10-7 in head-to-head meetings.
"I think both of us probably see each other's games pretty well. Especially this year, because we've played so much," Murray said. "But the one thing I would say is, this year I think both of us probably have seen things in each other's games probably improve, and that's why there's a lot of long rallies, and the matches are incredibly tight."
Murray looked unbeatable at the start Wednesday, breaking Djokovic in the first game and losing only three points on his serve in the first set.
"I don't think I played bad in the first set. It was him playing really well, serving extremely well," Djokovic said. "He lost only couple of points on his first serve throughout the whole set. So that says enough about his quality."
But Djokovic was able to convert break chances in each of the next two sets, and then for a third time at 5-5 in the final set to serve out the match.
Djokovic still didn't have an easy time as Murray quickly earned two break points in the final game. But a forehand smash and a service winner erased the danger before a pair of errors from Murray ended the match.
"The last two minutes of the match probably is what decided it," Murray said. "He broke from 15-40, and then I had 15-40 next game and didn't break. So that was the moment that decided the match."
Murray has had a breakthrough season this year. He became the first British man since 1938 to reach the Wimbledon final, and soon after won the Olympic gold medal by beating Roger Federer on the same grass at the All England Club.
His biggest win, however, came in September when he became the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win a major tennis title with the victory over Djokovic at the U.S. Open.
Djokovic's big year came in 2011, when he won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. But now they're both major champions, and holding their own against Federer and Rafael Nadal, the two players who have had a monopoly of tennis rivalries for nearly a decade.
Now may be the time for them to step aside and let Djokovic and Murray reign supreme.
"Hopefully this rivalry will evolve," Djokovic said, "and we can have many more great matches on the tour."