Tennis: Nadal coach fears 'talented' Murray
A DREAMY-EYED throng gathered around the practice session on Court 16 yesterday, waiting for a chance to collect Rafael Nadal's autograph.
The world No 1 is firmly installed as tennis' greatest heart-throb, yet he will be a heartbreaker for most of the crowd if he ejects Andy Murray from Wimbledon today.
The good news, from Murray's perspective, is that Nadal has had a bumpier ride through the tournament than his opponent. After consecutive five-set matches, against Holland's Robin Haase and Germany's Philipp Petzschner, he looked ready to call for "new knees, please".
Murray's best chance might have been to tackle Nadal in the fourth round, while he was still feeling the pain in his patella tendon.
Instead, the Majorcan was able to regroup, and his ludicrously whippy forehand was back to its best in the quarter-final as he despatched Robin Soderling, the gigantic Swedish slugger, in four hard-fought sets.
Their match is unlikely to be decided by mechanical issues, according to Nadal's uncle and coach Toni Nadal. "His problem is not the knees, it is Murray," said Toni. "Murray is ready to win a Grand Slam. He is one of the best players and the best players win tournaments like Wimbledon.
"He is a talented player, one of the most talented on the Tour, and physically well prepared. He has a good serve, a good forehand, a good backhand and he can play in different ways. It will be a difficult match for Rafa."
The last time Murray and Nadal came face to face on court was in January, at the quarter-final of the Australian Open. That was one of Murray's finest performances -- even if he was denied the satisfaction of finishing the job when Nadal retired, having already slipped close to defeat at 6-3, 7-6, 2-0.
Once again, the Spaniard cited his sore knees as an explanation (it's hard to call it an excuse when he spent the best part of the next two months in rest and rehabilitation). Since then, Nadal has been a little coy about his approach to tendinitis, saying only that he has undergone a "new treatment", which has sorted out his left knee, and he wants to get the right one fixed up after Wimbledon.
Asked yesterday whether his nephew was in good spirits, Toni said: "Rafa is the world No 1, he won the French Open and is in the Wimbledon semi-final -- it's natural that he is happy. He is feeling wonderful. Rafa had a problem against Petzschner but no difficulties against Paul-Henri Mathieu or Soderling.
"I think he will be fine to play five sets if he has to. He is physically ready, just like Murray. He isn't trying to shorten the rallies. He is trying to play the same way as he did in 2008.
"Rafa is confident but it is a 50-50 game. The key is to play very well and play the big points without mistakes. When Rafa played Murray in the Australian Open, he played OK, but he lost the big points."
Long-suffering British fans will hope for more of the same today but whoever comes through is likely to face another stern test in the final against either Novak Djokovic or Czech giant Tomas Berdych.
After slaying tennis' very own Goliath in Roger Federer, Berdych will re-load the slingshot today as he stands on the brink of a maiden Grand Slam final. Berdych, at 24, is the oldest of the four semi-finalists and the least heralded, but he is a man in form.
He pummelled his way through to the French Open semi-final, beating Murray on his way, before eventually losing in five sets to Soderling.
"You win a couple of matches at the beginning of the year and then you get confidence, it keeps going and going," he said. "It's not only about the last two weeks. It started in the United States, Indian Wells, Miami. So it's quite far ago. You get more and more experience. I am a little bit older, more focused, mentally stronger than before. That's what you need."
After being taken to five sets by Olivier Rochus under the beaming lights of the Centre Court roof in the first round, third seed Djokovic has raced through to the semi-finals with the minimum of fuss.
Lleyton Hewitt nicked a solitary set in an otherwise comfortable victory for the Serb in round four, while Lu Yen-hsun, the Taiwanese chicken farmer's son who knocked out last year's runner-up Andy Roddick, was put to the sword for the loss of just seven games. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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