Shanghai: Andy Murray remained on course for a hat-trick of titles at the Shanghai Masters despite the best efforts of tricky Czech Radek Stepanek and now sets his sights on Roger Federer.
Third seed Murray, still on a high after winning the US Open last month, was outfoxed in the first set by the unorthodox Stepanek before recovering to win their quarter-final clash 4-6 6-2 6-3.
The No 1 seed Federer, who is guaranteed to spend a 300th week on top of the ATP rankings, cruised past Croatia’s Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-4 to conclude the day’s action at the Qi Zhong Tennis Centre.
In the bottom half, Tomas Berdych proved too solid for Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, winning 6-3, 7-6, while Novak Djokovic ended the run of Germany’s Tommy Haas, winning 6-3, 6-3.
Murray met his match early on against Stepanek, who relies on crafty angles, changes of pace and razor-sharp volleys to throw opponents off balance.
The 33-year-old pounced on some loose play from Murray to earn three break points in the fifth game of the opening set and although two were saved the Czech converted the third.
Stepanek hardly lost a point on serve in the first set but Murray gradually got to grips with his opponent and seized control at 2-2 in the second, surging ahead to take the match into a decider.
The momentum briefly switched back to Stepanek, when he broke to lead 2-1 in the third, but the Scot responded immediately, dominating the baseline exchanges and breaking serve in the eighth game before securing victory in two hours 18 minutes.
“It was quite a scrappy first couple of sets, but obviously the second set I managed to get a break, got a bit of momentum,” said Murray, whose match against Federer will be eagerly anticipated after his thrashing of the Swiss at the London Olympics.
“I dictated a majority of the points at the end of the match and I needed to because he was playing with a lot of variety, making it hard for me.”
Federer, who beat Murray in the Wimbledon final to earn a 17th grand slam title, was largely untroubled against Cilic, although he did waver when attempting to serve out the match.
The Swiss squandered a match point at 5-3 and Cilic took advantage to break for the second time in the match.
Federer was not detained for much longer, however, earning two more match points in the following game and converting the first when Cilic fired a forehand long.
Djokovic denied Haas his 500th match victory with a clinical performance. “My return games were exceptional,” the Serbian said.
He will be attempting to win his fifth title of the year, although Berdych will provide a stern test after the Czech’s impressive display against Tsonga.
“I think it was a really solid game and solid performance from beginning until the end,” Berdych said. “I think the biggest difference between me and Jo was I was able to take the small chances during the first and especially the second set. It was not many of them, but I was able to keep it and convert it on my side.”