Andy Murray overcame an inspired first-set performance from Richard Gasquet on Friday to win 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-2 and advance to his second straight Sony Open final. Murray will face David Ferrer, who ended Tommy Haas’ incredible week with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory in the other semifinal. If Murray defeats Ferrer, he would unseat Roger Federer for the No. 2 ranking, a position he hasn’t held since August 2009.
Here’s what to expect from Sunday’s final, which will air on CBS at 11:30 am ET.
• No longer the underdog, the pressure firmly is on Murray: For the most part, Murray has picked up where he left off in his breakthrough 2012 season but with some significant improvements, namely his ability to consistently go deep outside of the Grand Slam tournaments. In four events this year, he’s made the quarterfinals or better, and yes, believe it or not, that’s an improvement. That track record coincides nicely with his potential jump in the rankings, which is much deserved after a 12-month swing that saw him reach three straight major finals (winning one), win Olympic gold and make three Masters finals. Yet in none of these matches was Murray the favorite. He’s been able to play the underdog for years in the shadows of Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, as they were the ones who repeatedly stopped him in his tracks.
But on Sunday, Murray is expected to win. Pure and simple. Murray leads the head-to-head over Ferrer by a slim margin at 6-5, but theirs is a matchup of surfaces. While Murray has never beaten Ferrer on clay (0-4), Ferrer has never beaten Murray on outdoor hard courts (0-4). This is the first time since 2006 Ferrer has even made it to the semifinals in Miami. Murray cruised through the draw before fending off a strong performance by Gasquet in the semis, but Ferrer has looked uneven in his last two matches. He lost the first set to both Jurgen Melzer in the quarterfinals and to Haas in the semifinals and struggled to find his rhythm early.
“David, after this week, will be in the top four again, and he deserves to be there because of his consistency,” Murray said, downplaying his status as the favorite. “He’s also started to play the last few years better in the big events. He made quarters of Wimbledon, semis of the French Open, semis of the Australian Open, semis of the U.S. Open. He’s not struggling to play well in the big events. So that’s why he’s there, and he’ll be a very tough match on Sunday.”
So with the No. 2 ranking on the line and the expectation to win his first ATP Masters 1000 title since 2011, let’s see how Murray handles the pressure.
• If Ferrer wins, Nadal’s chances to be seeded in the top four at the French Open dwindle: Regardless of Ferrer’s results at Key Biscayne, he was set to retake the No. 4 ranking from Nadal after the Sony Open by virtue of Nadal, a semifinalist here last year, skipping the tournament. But a Ferrer win would push his lead over Nadal to 1,065 points heading into the clay season, a difference that Nadal will be hard-pressed to overcome unless he dominates the French Open tuneups and gets some help from Ferrer. If Nadal can’t secure a top-four seed at Roland Garros, we’re looking at an Indian Wells-type situation, with Nadal possibly being drawn to meet Federer or Djokovic in the quarterfinals. No one wants that.
• No Roger, no Rafa, but the field fails again: Without two of the Big Four in attendance, Miami offered a prime opportunity for someone outside the top five to make a championship run. No one stepped up. Sure, Haas and Gasquet each had a tremendous tournament, with Haas stunning Djokovic in the fourth round and Gasquet rolling over Tomas Berdych before giving Murray a bit of a scare in the semifinals. But in the end they fell short, and once again, for the 27th straight time, an ATP Masters 1000 event will be won by a top-five player.