London - The home favorite was sent home early from the ATP World Tour Finals despite winning two matches in the round-robin phase of the season-ending event.
Andy Murray, Britain's top tennis player and ranked fourth in the world, beat Fernando Verdasco early on Thursday at the O2 Arena for his second win in three matches, but he was still eliminated because US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro managed to defeat Roger Federer in the late match.
All three of those players completed the round robin with identical 2-1 records in Group A, but Murray was on the short end of a complicated tiebreaker that came down to a total game-winning percentage.
"I knew if I won the match, then there was only one way that I couldn't go through, and that was if Del Potro won in three sets," Murray said after beating Verdasco 6-4, 6-7 (4) 7-6 (3). "So I just had to focus on winning."
If Murray had won in straight sets, that would have been enough to get him through to Saturday's semi-finals. He would have also gone through if Federer could have held serve at least one more time in the final set of his loss to Del Potro.
"That he got so close with the other two guys, it's quite incredible," Federer said of Murray. "I am, how do you say, in a way surprised myself it came down to a couple games."
Murray opened the tournament by beating Del Potro in three sets, but he then lost to Federer, also in three, after winning the first set.
"The first match was up and down," said Murray, the 2008 US Open runner-up. "The match against Federer, I was disappointed with."
On Thursday, Murray was never broken against Verdasco, saving the Spaniard's only chance, but struggled with his serve, piling up nine double-faults to go along with 18 aces.
"Today, obviously I'm happy to come through, but I didn't think that I played a poor match at all," Murray said. "I think I gave him maybe one break point the whole match, however many service games I played. So I didn't give him too many chances."
Verdasco lost all three of his matches and was also eliminated.
"Of course it's tough when you play good and you lose," said Verdasco, who lost all three matches in three sets. "And also when you have, in all three matches, (chances) to win."
In the late match, Del Potro easily beat four-time champion Federer in the first set, but the top-ranked Swiss rebounded and won the second set in a tiebreaker. In the decider, Federer and Del Potro held serve through 3-3, meaning the Argentine needed to win the next three games to advance along with Federer.
He held, then broke Federer for the third time in the match, and then held again to ensure advancement with a 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3 victory -sending Murray home for the offseason.
"I'm in the semi-finals. I'm happy for that," Del Potro said. "But (it) was strange."
Federer's spot in the semi-finals was assured when he held serve to make it 1-1 in the third set, but he said he didn't know that at the time.
"Otherwise I would have been gone on the ground and celebrated it, right?" the 15-time Grand Slam champion said with a smile. "I didn't do that."
Murray didn't get much of a chance to celebrate at all.
"It goes down to the percentage of games," said Murray, who won all three round robin matches last year but lost to Nikolay Davydenko in the semifinals. "The people that go through are the ones that deserve to."