Mason, Ohio: Andy Murray survived enough break points to set up a tournament title match against the world's top player.
The Scotsman overcame a pair of break points late in the second set, then another in the tiebreaker, beating American Mardy Fish 6-3, 7-6 (8) on Saturday and advancing to the final at the Western & Southern Open.
He'll play No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who advanced when Tomas Berdych withdrew from their semifinal because of a shoulder injury. Murray will be trying for only his second tournament win this season, to go with his title at the Queen's Club in June.
"I think it would be perfect preparation to play him before the U.S. Open, to see what I need to work on," Murray said.
He got his chance by hanging on.
Murray survived a 2-hour, 18-minute match on a hot, humid afternoon that took a toll on both players. Murray repeatedly bent over and grabbed the back of his legs during a close second set that included six service breaks.
The fourth-ranked Murray lost his opening match in Montreal last week, but recovered quickly in Cincinnati, where he reached the semifinals for the fifth time in his past six tournaments. Now, he gets a chance for his second title in Cincinnati — he also won it in 2008, his first Masters series championship.
This one was a struggle.
Fish has gotten the better of his matches against Murray lately, beating him three times last year. Plus, he's on one of the best spurts of his career, winning 14 of his last 16 matches coming in. He reached the semifinals with one of the best wins of his career, beating No. 2 Rafael Nadal for the first time in seven matches.
He'll be the top-ranked American heading into the U.S. Open.
"It will be much different for me this time, in a good way," Fish said. "I hope to keep playing the way I'm playing. I'm right there. I played good all week. Just trying to solidify my spot, show that I belong, convince myself that I belong as well."
Fish showed right away that he badly wanted to reach the Cincinnati finals for a second year in a row.
During the fourth game, Fish came to the net and dived while trying to make a return, landing hard on his right knee. Blood trickled from two scrapes by the knee for the rest of the game, which Murray won to break serve and go up 3-1.
It was a telling moment. Fish was the only player who hadn't lost a game off his serve during the tournament. He would be broken four times overall in a match full of break chances.
The second set came down to saving break points, and Murray was a little better at it. There were four straight breaks, six in all, during the set.
Murray held serve to tie it at 5, then had a triple break opportunity in the next game. Fish escaped with the help of an ace, then wasted a couple break points of his own, sending it to the tiebreaker.
At that point, Murray was starting to show the strain, grabbing the back of his legs and bending over to stretch them after chasing down a shot.
He overcame a set point during the tiebreaker, took it to 8-7, then appeared to end it by returning Fish's second serve down the line. Fish thought the shot was on the line, but challenged the call anyway while approaching the net to shake hands.
The replay showed the ball was barely out. The tiebreaker was all even at 8.
"I was lucky," Fish said. "I was really surprised."
Two points later, it was finally done.
After only one set, Djokovic's match was over.
Berdych hurt his right shoulder while reaching for a ball during his quarterfinal win over Roger Federer. He wasn't sure if he'd be able to play against Djokovic, who is 57-1 this season and unbeaten on hard courts.
Berdych, who hasn't reached a final since Wimbledon last year, broke Djokovic and led 5-4 in the first set. He double-faulted to even the match — a sign the shoulder was becoming a problem — and Djokovic broke him again to win the set 7-5. That's when Berdych withdrew.
"In the beginning, it was so-so and I was able to hit a few balls," he said. "But when the match was going more and more, it was just worse and worse. There was no chance to serve."
Djokovic knew coming in that Berdych was hurt and could see it affect him as the match went on. Djokovic was glad to be on the court for only 52 minutes, noting he's worn down from playing so many matches this summer.
"Well, to be honest, not (feeling) 100 percent, definitely," he said. "But I'm getting out there and trying to give my best to win every match I play in. I know that I felt better last week. But look, it's another final. It's a great achievement. Tomorrow I'll get another title."
First Published: Sunday, August 21, 2011, 08:47