London: Kei Nishikori made a dream start to his ATP Tour Finals debut as the Japanese star clinched a surprise 6-4, 6-4 victory over Andy Murray on Sunday.
Nishikori is the first Asian singles player to qualify for the prestigious season-ending tournament at London`s O2 Arena and he rose to the occasion with his first ever victory over former Wimbledon champion Murray at the fourth attempt.
The 24-year-old had failed to win even a single set in those losses to Murray, but the last came over two years ago and he has improved greatly since then.
He took the game to Murray right from the start and hit 20 winners in a 95-minute triumph that gives him a good chance of qualifying for the semi-finals from a group that also features Roger Federer and Milos Raonic, who meet later on Sunday.
"Maybe in the beginning I was a little bit tight, but I started feeling better and the second set was almost perfect," Nishikori said.
"I knew I had to be more aggressive than usual and that`s how I won. It`s my goal to go to the semi-final and final."
With matches against 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer and in-form Raonic still to come, Murray admitted he faces a fight to make the last four.
"It`s harder to qualify when you lose your first match. That`s pretty obvious," he said.
"I need to win my next two matches more than likely, and win them well if I want to go through.
"That`s going to be tricky because Milos played fantastic last week in Paris, and Roger always plays well at this event."
It was the latest memorable moment in a breakthrough year for Nishikori, who reached his first Grand Slam final at the US Open in September and became the first Asian man to finish in the world`s top 10 since 1973 thanks to a personal best 52 match wins this season.
Although he lost the final in New York to Marin Cilic, Nishikori has continued to shine in the closing weeks of the season, winning tournaments in Kuala Lumper and Tokyo to climb to fifth in the world, making him the highest ranked Asian male ever.
In contrast, Murray had spent the last two months jetting across the globe on a gruelling schedule of six consecutive tournaments in a successful bid to qualify for the Finals after he fell out of the top 10 for the first time in six years.
The Scot chalked up titles in Shenzhen, Vienna and Valencia and claimed he had played his way back into form.
Murray, who had won 20 of his last 23 matches, looked like extending his impressive run when he broke for a 3-2 lead in the first set.
But Nishikori hit straight back, breaking Murray to love in the next game, and he took the set when the Scot`s miscued drop-shot fluttered into the net.
He remained in charge in the second set and showed Murray how to play the drop shot in exquisite fashion to break in the second game.
Murray earned a lifeline when he broke back in the seventh game, but Nishikori kept the pressure on and sealed the win on his first match point when the Scot sent a backhand long.
Federer faces Raonic in Sunday`s late match while Monday sees double defending champion Novak Djokovic facing Cilic while Stan Wawrinka plays Tomas Berdych.