The 26-year-old Cordoba resident must clinch his 10th career ATP title to be guaranteed of qualification for the prestigious circuit finale to be held at the Qi Zhong Stadium in Shanghai from November 9-16. With 320 points in the ATP 2008 Race, he stands 36 points behind No. 8-placed Frenchman Gilles Simon, who made a third round exit (l. to Roddick) on Thursday.
US Open finalist Murray had been attempting to become the first player to capture three successive ATP Masters Series shields. The 21-year-old Scot captured his first shield at Cincinnati (d. Djokovic) in August and the Madrid trophy (d. Simon) two weeks ago. The World No. 4, who has five titles and a 55-15 season record, will now prepare for his first Tennis Masters Cup appearance.
Nalbandian won 62 per cent of service points and converted five of 13 break point opportunities. Murray hit 11 aces and won 28 of 39 first service points, but ultimately dropped to 18-19 lifetime against Top 10 opponents. "I'm obviously disappointed to lose, but I'm glad that I played against a guy as good as him and it took him playing a great match to beat me," said Murray. World No. 8 Nalbandian improved to 42-15 on the season.
Nalbandian will next meet sixth-seeded Russian Nikolay Davydenko, the 2006 champion, who was leading World No. 1 Rafael Nadal 6-1 after 47 minutes when the Spaniard retired with a knee injury. "I have some pain in the knee," said Nadal. "I had [it] when the tournament started a little bit.
Today when I woke up I felt it a lot. I tried to practice but still felt it. Later I went the doctor and the doctor gave me some anti-inflammatories.
Anyway I didn't have power in [my] right leg [to] play with the backhand."
The battle for the two remaining spots at Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai intensified after World No. 2 Roger Federer of Switzerland decided to withdraw ahead of his quarterfinal against American James Blake, currently No. 9 in the ATP 2008 Race, due to a stiff back. It is the first time in 763 career matches at ATP-level that the Swiss has retired/withdrawn during a tournament.
Federer said: "I have decided to pull out of my match against James Blake tonight. My back has been stiff for the last couple of days and I woke up this morning and it did not respond to the treatment I had last night. As a precaution and because I would be unable to play at 100% tonight, I have unfortunately had to take the difficult decision not to play.
"I've had a lot of back pain over all the years playing tennis, so it's not like the first time.
I'll check it out for the next few days. The flight [to Shanghai] is scheduled for Monday. I hope I can recover until then, otherwise I'll postpone [my flight booking]. I'm confident and I'm positive that hopefully it's going to get better in the next few days."
American Andy Roddick became the sixth player to qualify for Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai on Thursday, but on Friday he fell to Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(5).
Tsonga delighted home fans with another explosive display as he continued his late charge towards Shanghai. In Saturday's semifinal Tsonga will play fellow Shanghai hopeful James Blake. The stakes couldn't be higher. Blake will qualify if he reaches the final. A win would be good enough to take Tsonga to Shanghai provided Nalbandian loses his semifinal to Davydenko.
Seventh-placed Juan Martin del Potro will qualify unless Nalbandian defeats Blake in the final. Therefore del Potro can qualify as soon as Nalbandian or Blake lose before Sunday.
Eighth-placed Gilles Simon can no longer qualify because whomever wins the Tsonga-Blake semifinal will surpass the Frenchman in eighth position in the ATP 2008 Race.
Latest ATP 2008 Race Standings (after Friday's play in Paris)
1) Rafael Nadal# 1335
2) Roger Federer# 1041
3) Novak Djokovic# 929
4) Andy Murray# 684
5) Nikolay Davydenko# 463 (adds 25 pts if wins Saturday)
6) Andy Roddick 394#
7) Juan Martin del Potro 369
8) Gilles Simon 356
9) James Blake 355 (adds 25 pts if wins Saturday)
10) David Ferrer 339
11) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 335 (adds 25 pts if wins Saturday)
12) David Nalbandian 320 (adds 25 pts if wins Saturday)
13) Stanislas Wawrinka 302
14) Fernando Gonzalez 284
15) Fernando Verdasco 283
16) Gael Monfils 279
17) Robin Soderling 265