Andy Murray silenced the critics who claimed he was distracted by dreams of Davis Cup glory as the Scot opened his ATP Tour Finals campaign with a gritty 6-4, 6-4 win over David Ferrer on Monday.
Former Wimbledon champion Murray has made it clear his main priority in the closing weeks of the season is Great Britain's attempt to win the Davis Cup for the first time since 1936 in their first final since 1978.
– WTA Finals: Federer off to winning start in opening match
Britain face Belgium in the final on clay in Ghent next week and Murray had initially suggested he might pull out of the Tour Finals to fine-tune his preparations for the Davis Cup.
After learning of potential sanctions from the ATP if he withdrew, Murray settled for spending most of last week practising his clay-court game across London at Queen's Club before arriving at the O2 on Friday.
It was hardly ideal preparation and inevitably Murray's commitment against Ferrer was under close scrutiny from cynics who doubted whether the world number two really wanted to risk injury with the Davis Cup just around the corner.
But Murray assuaged those worries with a typically whole-hearted 90-minute display to see off Ferrer in his opening group match in the prestigious season-ending event.
While Murray was unable to win a Grand Slam this year, his impressive consistency over the last 11 months has brought him to the verge of finishing second in the year-end world rankings for the first time.
The 28-year-old will now be guaranteed that milestone if he wins one of his remaining two group matches against Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka, who meet later on Monday.
Murray has never been at his best in the Tour Finals, losing all three of his semi-final appearances.
His last visit to the O2 Arena 12 months ago ended with a humiliating 6-0, 6-1 defeat against Roger Federer that equalled the worst loss of his career.
But he was back in the groove against Ferrer, who had to save three break points early in the first set.
Although world number seven Ferrer, 33, has enjoyed another typically efficient campaign, Murray had won six of their last seven meetings, including in the Paris Masters semi-finals two weeks ago.
The two-time Grand Slam champion looked well on course to maintain his mastery of Ferrer when a volley that dipped just inside the baseline brought up two set points in the 10th game.
A Ferrer double fault gift wrapped the set for Murray and the Scot should have felt confident of finishing the job having won all 59 of his matches after taking the first set this year.
Murray briefly lost his focus and surrendered a break in the opening game of the second set.
But he broke back for 3-3 at the end of a 22-shot rally in which even the famously obdurate Ferrer was eventually worn down.
That proved the decisive moment as Murray harried Ferrer into more errors in the 10th game, earning two match points and converting the first with an emphatic smash.
Novak Djokovic has history in his sights as the world No1 aims to cap the greatest year of his life by winning a fourth successive ATP Tour Finals title.
Even by Djokovic’s already sky-high standards, 2015 has been a golden period for the 10-time grand slam winner, who has cemented his position as the sport’s preeminent force with one of the best single-seasons in the Open era.
With 78 wins from his 83 matches over the last 11 months, the 28-year-old Serb has amassed 10 titles including the Australian and US Opens, Wimbledon and a record six Masters 1000 tournaments.
Since losing to Roger Federer in the Cincinnati final in August, Djokovic has embarked on a 22-match winning run that has brought him the US Open, the China Open and Masters titles in Shanghai and Paris.
Djokovic, who opens his Tour Finals challenge against Japan’s Kei Nishikori on Sunday, would become the first player to win the event four years in a row if he lifts the trophy on November 22 and, ominously for his rivals, he claims he feels in the form of his life.
“I feel this season is even better than 2011. I’m in love with the game. I really don’t find it that difficult to go out on the practice courts and prepare myself in the off-season,” Djokovic said.
With a fearsome record of 37 successive indoor match wins, few would bet against Djokovic, even with an early showdown against Federer looming in the group stage.
World No3 Federer, who starts his 14th straight Tour Finals campaign against Tomas Berdych on Sunday, has a record six Tour Finals titles and has reached the final four times in the last five years.
The 17-time major champion, defeated by Djokovic in the Wimbledon and the US Open finals, expects to mount another strong challenge for the title.
“I’ve never had issues getting motivated for this event at the end of the season,” Federer said.
“It’s a massive priority for me and because it’s a priority it helps me play better. The idea of playing fellow top 10 players gets me really excited.”
In light of recent shocking revelations regarding alleged “state-sponsored” doping by Russian athletes, Federer has warned tennis chiefs they must bring in tougher measures to weed out drug cheats.
“The player needs to feel that there are going to be tests often to shy them away from the stupid thoughts they might be having,” Federer said.
“I think they (the sport’s chiefs) try their best but I think we could always do more. We have a very clear thing of what we should be doing – more testing,” he said. “Where the points become greater, the money becomes greater and we need to be tested. It is very simple. That’s how you scare off people."
The world's top players gathered at the official launch party for the ATP World Finals on Thursday.