It is a winner take-all set-up when Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka meet in their final Round Robin match of the Ilie Nastase group on Friday. Both players are 1-1 in group play with losses to Rafael Nadal who is already booked into the semifinals.
(2) Andy Murray - (4) Stan Wawrinka
Murray heads into this clash after a heavy defeat to Rafael Nadal in his last match on Wednesday 6-4, 6-1. Murray struggled with the consistency of his serve as he landed just 43 percent of his first serves in play. That let Nadal eat up a weak second serve with the Spaniard winning 19 of 29 points. Murray was broken four times on nine break chances. He only mustered one break of Nadal's serve on the lone break chance that he saw in the match. It's an intriguing spot for the Scot who is just one week out from leading Great Britain into Belgium for the Davis Cup final. A win Friday means he will play into the weekend and have a little less prep for Davis Cup play. A win Friday would also lock down the year-end number two ranking ahead of a hard charging Roger Federer.
Wawrinka should have some confidence heading into this match after a comfortable 7-5, 6-2 win over David Ferrer last time out. It was a stark contrast to the lackadaisical effort he showed in his opener against Rafael Nadal. Wawrinka was a bit more crisp on serve and with his ground strokes. The Swiss says he is hoping to bring that momentum to the match with Murray on Friday, saying after the Ferrer match, "It's going to be interesting how I'm going to play Friday, if I'm going to bring the positive game that I started to play on Wednesday, and also how he's going to be."
Murray leads the official series with Wawrinka by a count of eight wins against six losses in ATP sanctioned events. It has been nearly two years since they last met in 2013. That came at the Abu Dhabi exhibition before the start of the 2013 season. Murray won there 6-3, 6-4. It was a very small sense of payback for the whooping the Swiss laid on him at the tail end of the 2013 ATP season. Wawrinka crushed Murray 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 to knock him out of the U.S. Open in the quarterfinals. Wawrinka had already beaten him earlier in 2013 in Monte Carlo 6-1, 6-2. They have met only once on an indoor hard court in the past. That came way back back in 2008 in Marseille where Murray came out victorious 3-6, 7-6, 6-1.
To Be Or Not To Be For Murray
The question for Andy Murray on Friday is whether or not he chooses to be a player who exerts maximum effort with the Davis Cup so close on the calendar. This was always going to be a talking point with Murray at one point. In the months prior, he suggested that he might skip the Tour Finals. The Scot was reminded by ATP officials that all players who qualify are expected to participate. He has done just that, but this could be the time for Murray to gracefully bow out with a professional effort against Wawrinka that falls short of a win. In tennis, that is not that out of the ordinary for a player to have to choose rest over a win in certain spots. Murray of course is talking a good game about giving his best, but there will be an air of uncertainty when he takes the court on Friday in this columnist's estimation.
Equal Effort Should Yield Equal Opportunity
If all things are equal and Andy Murray is giving maximum effort on Friday and Stan Wawrinka for that matter, this could be a delightful match. It would feature two guys who enjoy bashing the ball from the baseline. Both have had one good match and one clunker this tournament. Where Wawrinka should have an edge is on serve. Despite the slower conditions in London, the Swiss still features a more powerful and consistent serve than Murray on most nights. That is of course when his focus is 100 percent and outside of Grand Slams, that often is a question.
From the baseline, Murray will have to chose which wing to attack as the fourth seed features adequate power and placement from both the forehand and backhand side. Wawrinka has long been admired for having one of the best one-handed backhands in the game. Murray will want to run around to more forehands if possible as the backhand is definitely his weaker ground stroke.
The final piece of intrigue will be the crowd. They will all be on Murray's side, but that sometimes is beneficial to Wawrinka. In the past, the Swiss has sometimes allowed a crowd split more for his opponent to bother him when it is in a neutral setting. This is no neutral setting. Knowing that going in, there is a chance to embrace the underdog/villain role against the Scot in this setting. In this columnist's eyes, that is a spot that Wawrinka might actually be more comfortable with. It is difficult to gage the mindset of both players in what could be their season finale. This columnist still believes Murray wouldn't mind getting out of London sooner rather than later, so Stan Wawrinka is the pick.
Prediction: Stan Wawrinka wins in straight sets.