By Alexandra Willis at the O2 Arena
27 November 2010
Rafael Nadal defeated Andy Murray in a spectacular three hours and 11 minutes of edge-of-the-seat tennis in the first semi-final at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at London’s O2 Arena.
The Brit, competing against the world No.1 for the 13th time, showed no signs of repeating the shadowy start he had against both Roger Federer and David Ferrer, winning his opening service game with an ace, the first of nine to his name in the set. Pulling cross court backhand flicks out of his box of shots on occasion, and notching up 18 winners, Murray easily looked Nadal’s equal, winning 90% of points on his first serve to the world No.1’s 75%.
With neither player able to get to deuce, let alone break point, on the other’s serve to interrupt the stalemate, the opening set went to a tie-break. The Spaniard’s record in James Van Alen’s invention is exemplary, and so it proved, as despite winning a 36-shot rally to level the score at 5-5 and redeem a mini-break against him, Murray found himself serving at set point down, a puppy on the end of Nadal’s leash. And then the world No.1 did what he does best. Bending the situation to suit him, Nadal rushed the net, placed a volley just beyond Murray’s long limbs, and sneaked the set 7-6 (5).
Any fears that Murray and Nadal would be unable to continue at such a level for the rest of the match were firmly debunked as soon as the second set was underway. While Murray saved two break points against him, the first severe points against serve of the match, Nadal replied with off forehands that had eyes popping out of heads. But despite the briefest of lulls on his serve, it was the Scot who remained the fresher, and for the first time, the world No.1 looked half a step behind. So it proved, at 3-3, as Murray found himself with three break points on the Nadal serve. The Spaniard saved all three, the first an exceptional pick-up on the forehand, but on the fourth, Murray was rewarded for his perseverance, and broke to lead 4-3.
Cementing the break with another wow-making service game, completing the first point with a broken string, the Scot broke again to take the set 6-3 with a backhand winner, and level the match at one-set all. The duo’s last three-set encounter to go the distance took place in Rotterdam in 2009, a match Murray won 6-3, 4-6, 6-0. But Nadal was practically one-legged in that encounter. It was not the case today.
Breaking at the start of the third set, and surviving a brief blip on serve immediately after, Nadal bounced back like a jack-in-the-box. Continually threatened on his serve as Murray refused to give up, one point from the world No.1 typified the match. As Murray scampered to reach a drop shot at 4-3, 0-15, flicking it across the court at a seemingly ungettable angle, Nadal threw himself to the right as if he was a rugby player on the try line, tucking the ball over the net at full stretch on the edge of his strings. “The guy is a freak”, was all Pat Cash could say.
Serving at 3-5, staring down the barrel of match point against him, it looked like Murray would be dealt a ninth loss by the Spaniard. But how quickly things can change. Serving for the match at 5-4, Nadal blinked, and the Scot sprung. Breaking back, and surviving a break point on his own serve, Murray clung on by his fingernails to send the match into a final set tie-break. Roaring into a 4-1 lead, the momentum was with the Scot. But Nadal has more than a cat’s nine lives. Redeeming the deficit, the Mallorcan created a second match point after wrong-footing Murray, the Brit falling to the floor in agony, only for Murray to save that one too. The third though, on the Spaniard’s serve, was a step too far. Burying the ball on both lines of the court’s far-left corner, Nadal triumphed 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-6(6).
“It was a very, very good match of tennis, I want to congratulate Andy for his attitude all the time, he’s having a great career, don’t put pressure on him, he’s a great champion, he’s going to win a lot of Grand Slams in my opinion,” said Nadal, given a standing ovation by the 17,500 spectators at the O2.
“I was in a difficult position, Andy came back well in the 5-4, I had a few mistakes, he hit an amazing passing shot on the break point, but the only thing I could think was to stay there and wait if I had chances to win the match. For me is a big emotion, this afternoon, you know how tough it was for me last year, two years ago I could not play in Master Cup. To be in the final is a dream, and today I played probably one of the best matches in my career.”
“It was an unbelievable match, Rafa has really very good play, against one of the best players of the world,” said Nadal’s coach Toni Nadal. “For us, it is a big victory. After the second set I thought the match would be for Andy, because he was less tired. I want to think that he works hard since he was a young player, and now, it is good for him to be here.”
Nadal will meet the winner of the second semi-final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the final at 5pm tomorrow.
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