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Nadal edges Murray in semi-final epic

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Originally published on: 27/11/10 18:47

Rafael Nadal is through to his first Barclays ATP World Tour Finals final after an exhilarating semi-final victory over Andy Murray, winning 7-6(5) 3-6 7-6(6) in a contest befitting the occasion.

Nadal, world No.1 and winner of three of this year’s Grand Slams, was pushed all the way by a resurgent Murray as both men produced tennis of a calibre to make the match an instant classic.

Memories of Murray’s tame defeat at the hands of Roger Federer earlier in the week were soon a distant memory as the Scot came out swinging from the offset, bludgeoning a series of blistering ground strokes to push Nadal onto the back foot at times, and serving with greater menace than he has all week.

But while strategic talk often focuses on Nadal’s newfound attacking repertoire, the Spaniard is still a defensive master and neither man faced a break point in the opening set.

It was Murray that blinked first in the opening tiebreak, not helped by the first of three racket changes on account of broken strings at the end of game 12. He recovered an early mini-break by winning the point of the set, finishing a monster rally by chasing down a Nadal drop shot and slotting home the volley as Nadal tried a backhand pass down the line.

In the end, however, a second drop shot on Nadal’s first set point proved to be too good even for Murray’s scrambling skills, giving the Spaniard a set that had remained in the balance until the very end.

Murray looked in danger of suffering a brief hangover from that disappointment early in the second set but rallied from 15-40 down in his opening service game to maintain parity. From that moment on, the Scot, buoyed by the fervent support of a healthy proportion of the 17,500-strong crowd at The O2, played some irresistible tennis, clocking up aces at will and dictating in the rallies – a feat few players can manage against Nadal.

The purple patch was finally rewarded when Murray sealed the first break of the contest in game seven. A forehand drive volley sent Murray on his way to a 0-40 lead, and although Nadal survived to reach deuce a backhand winner on his fourth break point put Murray in control at 4-3.

Murray, who will regain his world No.4 ranking from Robin Soderling after this event, was not done there, breaking again two games later to level the match at a set apiece with a glorious forehand winner that left an uncharacteristically subdued Nadal rooted to the spot.

When he found himself a game and 0-30 to the good at the start of the final set thoughts of a famous victory crept in around the arena, but Nadal stopped a five-game streak in its tracks and was gifted a break in the very next game as Murray opted for two ill-judged drop-shots, the second barely reaching the net on break point.

The Scot had chances to hit back but couldn’t convert in game six, and soon found himself serving to stay in the Finals.

Reenergised, Nadal reached match point at 5-3 on the Murray served with a blistering inside-out forehand, but a gutsy second serve and a service winner dug the Scot out of trouble.

That still left Nadal serving for his place in the final, but Murray was not done yet, guiding a backhand pass down the line at 30-40 to level the match at 5-5 – and still the drama continued. Murray conspired to allow Nadal the chance to break straight back, but two huge aces – the last of 21 in total – steered the set towards a deciding tiebreak.

Murray took his first significant lead of the entire match when a pair of huge forehands took him to 3-0, but Nadal hti back with two mini-breaks of his own to level the score at 4-4. Nadal saw another match point come and go when he netted a forehand pass, but with the arena in raptures Murray sent a forehand agonisingly wide to leave Nadal the first match point on his serve.

The world No.1 made no mistake at the third time of asking, blasting a forehand winner into the far corner to clinch an epic victory.

While Murray couldn’t hide his instant disappointment as he left the court holding his head, both men afterwards admitted to relishing the match.

“It was one of those matches where I kind of knew when I was out there that it was a great match – the noise the crowd made when we changed ends at six-all [in the tiebreak] was pretty incredible,” said Murray, who is enjoying his growing rivalry with Nadal, who alongside Federer he described as one of “the best players of all time.

“Hopefully I’ll get more chances to play him in these sort of matches because today is the reason why I play tennis.”

“For me is an amazing victory,” said Nadal, who came into this event believing it to be the hardest tournament of the year. “The only way here is play really well – play well, play aggressive. You can play defensive for moments, but you have to come back to the attack. If you’re not playing really well, it’s impossible.”

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