London: Andy Murray moved a step closer to the semi-finals of the ATP Tour Finals as the world number one wore down Kei Nishikori in a gruelling 6-7 (9/11), 6-4, 6-4 victory that took over three hours on Wednesday.
Murray was pushed to his limits by Nishikori in the longest Tour Finals match played in the event's seven years at London's O2 Arena.
But Murray finally subdued the Japanese star in three hours and 20 minutes and will be guaranteed a place in the last four if Marin Cilic defeats Stan Wawrinka on Wednesday evening.
"I just fought really hard. Kei was making me run but I eventually got over the line," Murray said.
These are the sort of matches you work so hard for. I feel OK right now, but it's the following day when you feel it often.
"Hopefully there will be another three days to this season and I'll do my best to get through them."
The 29-year-old's gritty recovery took his winning streak to 21 matches, just one short of his career best run of 22 successive victories earlier this year.
Murray's refusal to be outlasted by the obdurate Nishikori keeps him on course to retain top spot in the ATP rankings at the end of the year.
Novak Djokovic's win over Milos Raonic on Tuesday had given the Serb a 70-point lead over Murray in the unofficial 'as-it-stands' rankings but, with each victory at the Tour Finals worth 200 points, the Scot moved back above his old rival by beating Nishikori.
Murray has enjoyed an incredible 11 months in which he has won Wimbledon for the second time, claimed a second Olympic singles gold medal and lifted four successive titles in Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna and Paris.
But since losing to Djokovic in the French Open final in June, the highest-ranked player Murray had faced was then world number six Milos Raonic in Cincinnati.
- Made to sweat -
Murray had won seven of his nine meetings with Nishikori, but the world number five enjoyed an impressive triumph in their last encounter in the US Open quarter-finals and he made the Scot sweat again.
While saving break points in the third and fifth games of the first set, Murray was pushed so hard that his wedding ring, which he keeps tied to his shoe, fell off.
When Nishikori earned another break point at 5-5, Murray again wriggled out of trouble but then squandered a set point in the next game.
In a thrilling tie-break, Murray came from 3-6 down and saved four set points but crucially he was unable to take two set points of his own and Nishikori finally sealed it when the Scot missed a wild forehand.
It had taken 85 minutes to settle a gruelling first set, yet Murray's energy levels remained high and he started the second set with an immediate break.
Nishikori responded by levelling at four-all, only for Murray to break again and close out the set.
Even after more than two and half hours on court, Murray's renowned commitment to his fitness ensured he was still going strong in the final set and he broke in the third game.Murray broke again, yet Nishikori didn't go quietly and he got one break back before the Scot at last aced one of his most demanding tests this year.