Murray Wears Nadal Out to Gets to the US Open Final

Andy Murray fooled around a bit too much but managed to beat Rafael Nadal in four sets to reach his first slam final.

The US Open semifinal match between Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal was interrupted by tropical storm Hannah on Saturday afternoon and resumed on Sunday afternoon after the early US football games ended. Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic will play their final Sunday evening and the men will play their final on Monday.

This has me so screwed up that I missed my fantasy picks. I didn’t realize there was a tournament next week in Bucharest until I got a very angry email. Whoops. Well, let’s see if I can at least do this right.

Rafael Nadal lives off consistency and conditioning and we were wondering when he’d lose one of those after a French Open/Wimbledon double and an Olympic gold medal on the other side of the world. He limped into this tournament last year with blisters and it was only a matter of time before someone beat him.

There were no blisters this year and Nadal lost only two sets coming into his semifinal but he looked tired. He was hitting balls short and giving up the court to Murray. For all of Murray’s new found conditioning, he also got tired at the beginning of the third set on Saturday after winning the first two sets in pretty strong fashion and, remember, he lost in the first round in Beijing so he had plenty of time to prepare.

Nadal was up a break at 3-2 in the third set when the rains came on Saturday and he managed to close out the third set on Sunday but he didn’t look strong enough to win three straight sets and he wasn’t. He fought off seven break points in his first service game in the third set with an assortment of aces and clutch winners. It lifted his game but it took something out of him too.

Murray was so disappointed at not getting the break that he coughed up his serve at love in the next game and then he started playing cute tennis as if to say, like some cartoon character, “Now I got you where I want you.” I squirmed in my seat waiting for those hard flat shots but they weren’t coming. You could tell Nadal wasn’t feeling great because Murray didn’t have to pay for it.

Murray broke back to get to 3-3 and in the next game, he hit another one of those dumb drop shots and this one was really dumb, it popped up into the air with a sign on it saying “hit me, hit me.” Nadal sprinted in and hit the ball hard down the line but Murray stuck out a one-handed backhand and bunted it back into the open court to stay on serve.

If he plays like that against Federer he’ll be sorry but there’s a fine line between playing cute and playing smart tactical tennis and Murray finally figured it out. He wasn’t quite as sharp with his flat winners as he had been the day before so he hit inside out slices that bounced away from Nadal’s backhand to open up Nadal’s forehand side and give himself a bit more room to play to play with. And with Nadal serving to stay in the match at 4-5, Murray played a masterful point.

Murray looped shots back and forth with Nadal until he got him out of position then hit six straight shots to opposite corners of the court and progressively wore Rafa down before hitting one last sweet volley to the open court. Murray now had match point and Rafa was leaning over sucking air. It had been a long hot summer and Rafa had finally given out. He was just too exhausted to go. Instead of getting run ragged in another long rally, Rafa hit a drop shot early in the next point and watched as Murray hit it past him.

Murray won’t be lucky enough to get a night’s sleep between the third and fourth set in the final and he’ll face another master strategist in Roger Federer who looks plenty rested. If Murray can pressure Federer and serve well, he has a good shot at winning his first slam. If he fools around too much, the match will go on too long and Federer will get his fifth straight US Open title.