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Wimbledon: Rafael Nadal beats Andy Murray in four sets to reach final

Jul 2, 2011

For more than an hour in this tense,
fractured semi-final, Andy Murray was better
than Rafa Nadal – sufficiently so to
encourage growing hopes that he deserved
at least a chance to reach for the ultimate
prize. That he fell short for the third year in a
row at this stage of the tournament the
nation is willing him to win had as much to
do with his continued struggle for
consistency when in such a position as the
irresistible Spanish force in front of him.
After taking the first set with a serve that
hummed and a mind fixed to the task,
Murray was 2-1 up when he lined up a
gimme forehand winner that would have
given him two break points. He over-hit and
Nadal held.
Tennis is full of hundreds of opportunities
to live and die but, for long stretches
thereafter, Murray was not so much an
opponent as a victim of circumstance. Nadal,
who said beforehand he would like his "nice
friend" to win a major – "but not this one" –
beat him up with power and cunning and
set aside British dreams at Wimbledon for
another year, or maybe longer.
The defending champion, who has not lost
here in four years and 20 matches, won 5-7,
6-2, 6-2, 6-4 for a place in the final against
Novak Djokovic, whose win over Jo-Wilfried
Tsonga was a contest of higher all-round
skills and thrills. The second semi-final on
Centre Court was too uneven to touch the
heights. And, for Murray, the depths were
hard to deal with.
After the quickest cool-down of his career,
probably, Murray faced the media and said
of his second-set gaffe: "It was a big point I
was playing very high-risk tennis for most of
the match. I started making a few mistakes,
but a match that lasted nearly three hours
[to turn] on one point … I slightly over-hit
that one. A year ago they were saying I was
playing too defensively, today I was going
for all my shots."
A gracious winner said later: "I said, 'Sorry
for that,' to him. I had to play my best tennis
to have any chance. He's a great champion.
He was playing fantastic at the beginning,
he made an important mistake at 15-30 and
2-1 up at the start of the second. That was a
turning point in the match."
Nadal thinks Murray's tennis is sound. "I
don't think he needs more," he said. "He is
playing well enough, a little bit more lucky,
maybe. Five-set matches are tough, over two
weeks."
He was being kind. That mistake did more
than cost Murray a break, it broke his
concentration and, to an extent, the rhythm
that is essential to his performance. He
either flies or falls. Yesterday, he fell.
It did not happen. As Murray gradually
folded, Nadal raised his game to a level
beyond anything he had played in this
125th Wimbledon, and some way out of
reach of the world No4.
Before a ball was struck, they slipped into
type – as the little-bull Spaniard sprinted to
the back of the court, legs pumping in
anticipation of a fight, the diffident Scot,
sporting perhaps the worst facial growth
outside a circus, was still doing up his
shoelaces at the net, distracted in a
schoolboy's way.
Not so when he got down to business: in
the 55 minutes of the first set, Murray
battered Nadal's backhand until his shoulder
ached. A 109-mile-an-hour service wide to
Nadal's backhand opened proceedings,
followed by a backhand smash, a 130mph
ace down the middle and another of
129mph for the near-perfect start, all inside
a minute.
"I love you Andy," cried a plaintive male
(English, possibly Surrey) voice from the
stands, sounding suspiciously like the one
that had plucked at Djokovic's heart strings
a couple of hours earlier – but the love game
was Nadal's, behind a precise, clean serve.
Murray's was clicking lethally, and a couple
of aces got him to 4-3 after half an hour.
Only a screaming forehand cross-court
return by Murray stopped three consecutive
service games to love, to remind us we were
witnessing two of the cleanest hitters in the
game.
Serving to stay in the set, Nadal struggled
against Murray's patient, pressure tennis,
stuck on the baseline. Murray earned three
set points by working Nadal's backhand
relentlessly. When Nadal's sliced backhand
struck the net, a piercing roar filled the court
and Murray was 7-5 up.
The sun was shining on Murray alone until
the fifth game, when his concentration
collapsed. He double faulted then murdered
a smash and Nadal was in front, 3-2, after
an hour and a quarter. A string popped at
0-40 and 2-3 but the problems were more
than mechanical for Murray, who'd dipped
into one of his low-gear phases. Simple
forehands found the net or the worn grass
beyond the baseline and Nadal sensed his
discomfort. When he limply pushed a drop
shot into the net to give Nadal a break point,
he followed it with an equally anaemic sliced
backhand into the net and was 2-5 down
and staring at a dilemma.
To allow the Spaniard back into the match in
just half an hour, after having him in such
trouble in the first set was bone-headed.
And when he pushed a backhand return, his
trademark shot, well over the line to gift
Nadal the second set 6-2, he was clearly
floundering.
The start of the third underlined what a
maddening player Murray can be. He
followed a 129mph ace with a double-fault
and two sloppy forehands to give Nadal a
break,and the champion sensed a widening
chasm as he went 2-0 up – only for Murray
to hold to love. Then the unforced errors
dribbled from his trembling racket until
Nadal served out without hindrance at 6-2
for a second time.
The good chances stayed achingly out of
reach for Murray now and those that
presented themselves he wasted, in
between Nadal scorching the grass with an
array of quite stunning ground strokes,
along the line, in the corners, most of them
glossed in top-spin that made them
unreturnable.
Murray needed a bit of time to settle, a
break, of any sort, a kind bounce or an
implosion by Nadal. None came and the
champion served out coolly for a place in the
final and finished with the most withering
forehand to end it after just under three
hours.