Rafael Nadal showed why he is World Number One by clawing his way to a 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 7-6 (8-6) victory over Andy Murray in their ATP World Tour Finals 2010 Semi-Final this afternoon. In an exhilarating, helter-skelter match, Nadal held his nerve to pick up the win in a third set tie-breaker.
The first set went with serve, and produced a tiebreaker, during which Nadal raced away to a 4-1 lead, before Murray pegged him back to 5-5. Nadal had the class to win the next two points and the first set, however.
Murray produced some startlingly good form in the second set to break Nadal twice en route to a 6-3 set win to level the match.
Murray looked to have carried that momentum through to the third, and final, set, when he began pressuring Nadal’s serve once more, taking him to 0-30 in the opening game, however, Nadal dug deep and produced four points on the bounce to get a firm grip of the match once more.
It was Nadal who broke first in the final set, as Murray had one of his dips and his first serve level dropped once more, before he got a hold of his game again and started to threaten Nadal’s service again.
Murray had to dig deep at 3-5 on his serve when Nadal had a match point, but the Scot, always at his best on the counter with his back against the wall, produced some great serves to go 4-5 before producing a fantastic game to break back and level the match.
Murray held his nerve and his serve to take the lead, at 6-5 before Nadal extinguished any hopes of another Murray break with some good first serves and epic forehands to win the final game to love setting up a tense tiebreaker in front of Murray’s home support.
The Brit got off to the best start, racing away to a 4-1 lead in this the second tiebreaker of the match, but he let Nadal back into it, and soon found himself serving at 5-6 behind, with Nadal on Match Point number two. Murray showed courage to save that one, before hitting a cross-court passing shot attempt at a winner agonisingly wide with his man beaten on his very next point. Murray had produced over 50 winners in the match, but this one was just inches wide, and set up Nadal’s first Match Point on his own serve.
Nadal, true to form, produced a magnificent forehand winner following good approach play. He buried his looping dipping forehand shot – which he had run right around on the back-hand side – right into the corner, and Murray had to say “too good”. But only just.
For spells in this latch, Murray more than outplayed his classy rival. At one point in the second set, Nadal shook his head as Murray produced a string of fantastic passing winners on both sides, up lines and cross court. Nadal looked tired and pedestrian during this Murray onslaught, which is something the brilliant Spaniard almost never looks likely to be accused of on a tennis court.
That said, Nadal’s level never dropped, never faltered. Murray peaked and troughed, and perhaps this is the reason why Nadal is able to get the better of his man in the key matches: nerves do not alter his game; neither is adrenaline required to raise his level. He is just truly excellent, all the time.
Nadal makes the final, where he will face the winner of this evening’s match between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, the World Number Two and Three respectively. On this afternoon’s evidence, either of those men will find Rafa Nadal an extremely tough nut to crack.
Murray doesn’t need to go back to the drawing board – he is an excellent tennis player in his own right – he simply needs to keep reaching this point so that it becomes commonplace. He needs to get used to beating people with nerves in his system. He needs to do this so that he is a little less streaky, and a little more consistent in the biggest of games. Murray seems as close as he ever has done to the complete package, however, and any slight improvement in his mental attitude or his game will see him get close to a Grand Slam next year.
Nadal has won this battle, but, as Murray showed today, there is far from a Gulf between the current Number One and the new Number Four, at least on this surface. These two will meet again, soon, and it will be yet another cracking match.