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By Nicholas McCarvel

Andy Murray is having a great 2012 (October 5, 2012) -- If 2011 was Novak Djokovic’s year, 2012 has certainly turned into the year of Andy Murray. After the Scotsman started the season with another disappointing loss in the semifinals of the Australian Open -- to Nole, no less -- and a heartbreaking defeat to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final, Murray made history by winning the London Olympics and becoming the first British man since 1936 to win a major at the US Open last month.
 
Murray has taken his success across another ocean into the fall Asian swing this week, his first tournament since winning seven straight in New York City. As the defending champion in Tokyo at the Rakuten Japan Open, Murray fought off a stiff challenge from Ivo Karlovic in his opener and then needed three in the quarterfinals to beat Stanislas Wawrinka.

PREVIEW: RAKUTEN JAPAN OPEN (TOKYO, JAPAN)
 
It’s in the weekend’s semifinals that Murray will face another test in big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic. The last time these two played as just weeks again at Flushing, Murray overwhelming Milos in straight sets.

(Browse: Rakuten Japan Open Singles Draw)
 
On the bottom half of the draw, there is somehow a more electric match-up than Murray-Raonic as hometown favorite Kei Nishikori takes on the always-entertaining Marcos Baghdatis. Nishikori registered two three-set wins in his openers before downing higher-ranked Tomas Berdych 7-5, 6-4.
 
The march for Japan’s Nishikori is even sweeter looking at his record in Tokyo: he’s just 2-4 in four appearances, and hasn’t won a match here since 2009. But has an uphill in Baghdatis, who is 3-0 lifetime against Kei, including a win on hardcourts in Brisbane earlier this year.

PREVIEW: CHINA OPEN (BEIJING, CHINA)
 
Across the East China Sea in Beijing, the women and men are both competing in Beijing at the China Open. But though some 64 players have gathered in the Chinese capital, just one player -- Li Na --has become the focal point of this high-octane tournament.
 
At an event that has gathered every top female player sans a sick Serena Williams, Li -- like Nishikori -- has never truly shined in front of her adoring home fans. She was just 11-7 in Beijing coming into this year, including a demoralizing first-round loss here a year ago following her French Open win.
A semifinalist in 2010, Li stormed through her opening two rounds before digging deep in her season’s reserve to beat countrywoman Peng Shuai in the third round, 7-6 in the third set. Li followed up that win with a more-impressive 6-4, 6-2 drubbing of Agnieszka Radwanska. That victory earned her something bigger as well: a spot at the season-ending WTA Championships in Istanbul.
 
But things don’t get easier for Li, who has Maria Sharapova in the semifinals. On the top half of the draw, top-ranked Victoria Azarenka has the always-dangerous Marion Bartoli in the other semifinal. Though the Belarussian is 8-3 in her career record against the world No. 10, they’ve split their last six. Their last meeting came in Miami, when Bartoli snapped Azarenka’s 26-match winning streak earlier this year.
 
Somehow, Nole and the men of Beijing are playing third-string in the tennis world this week, which doesn’t mean there hasn’t been compelling tennis from them. The story of the week, however, was halted in the quarterfinals as China’s Ze Zhang, the world No. 165, saw his dream week -- which included a monumental win over Richard Gasquet -- ended by Florian Mayer.
Mayer’s reward is Djokovic, who he hasn’t taken a set against in two tries. The German is still recovering from a dramatic meltdown at the U.S. Open, where he lost in straight sets to unheralded American Jack Sock, retiring in the third set.
 
The always-dangerous Jo-Wilfried Tsonga takes on Feliciano Lopez on the other side of the draw. It’ll be an uphill battle the Spaniard, who has won just one set in four matches against the world No. 7.
 
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

 

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