Top-seeded Andy Murray defeated Spain’s Nicolas Almagro in testing, blustery conditions to reach his first semi-final of the season at the Qatar Open on Thursday.
Murray came through 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 and will take on the winner of the later match between third-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych and Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Friday’s semi-finals.
The Scot was made to work hard after being broken to love in the opening game by the tenacious world No 44. But after hitting back in the eighth game, Murray was taken to a tie-break, which he went on to dominate.
Both players traded breaks of serve early in the second set, and although Almagro stayed strong under increasing pressure and took the game to his opponent during spells, he eventually succumbed in the 11th game.
Murray successfully served out the match after two hours and nine minutes to extend his remarkable unbeaten streak to 27 matches and stay on course for a third Doha title.
“It was tough conditions tonight, very windy,” said Murray. “I’m pretty tough [with myself] especially first week of the New Year. There are always a few nerves so you just want to get some matches under the belt with the Australian Open just around the corner.”
Novak Djokovic denied evergreen veteran Radek Stepanek the chance to make history by becoming the oldest player to reach an ATP semi-final in almost 25 years, since a 40-year-old Jimmy Connors reached the last four in San Francisco in 1993.
The defending champion beat 38-year-old Stepanek 6-3 6-3 to set up a semi-final against Spain’s Fernando Verdasco.
“It’s exciting, you obviously want to start the year off in the best possible way, that’s three wins out of three,” said Djokovic.
“It’s always a great test in these kind of conditions, it’s never easy for the players.”
Earlier, Verdasco won through 6-2 7-5, against another veteran, Ivo Karlovic.
The giant Croatian, 37, is currently ranked 20 in the world and is the oldest top 20 player since 43-year-old Ken Rosewall in 1978.
Also, Aljaz Bedene survived a three-hour tussle with Martin Klizan to reach the quarter-finals of the Chennai Open. The British No 4 pulled off another impressive result against fourth seed Klizan, winning 7-6 (7-3) 6-7 (2-7) 7-6 (7-2) after three hours and four minutes.
Bedene must recover quickly for a clash with French fifth seed Benoit Paire on Friday.