TENNIS: Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray joined Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the US Open yesterday to set the stage for a dramatic ending to the last grand slam of the year.
On a glorious sunny day at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Nadal and Murray ended the hopes of the host nation in the men's draw, eliminating the last two Americans to leave the top four players in the world to battle it out for the title.
"It's good for tennis," said Murray. "That's probably what people would like to see."
Andy Roddick and John Isner may disagree. Roddick was ripped apart by a ruthless Nadal 6-2 6-1 6-3 in less than two hours while the towering Isner finally ran into someone who could blunt his powerful serve, losing 7-5 6-4 3-6 7-6 to Murray. "I didn't have a lot of fun today," said Roddick.
The winners have little time to celebrate. Nadal and Murray were due back on centre court for their match today as part of a jam-packed day of four semi-finals forced by heavy rain during the week.
Djokovic and Federer, who had the day off after winning their quarter-finals on Thursday, will lock horns in the other men's semi-final, while Serena Williams will meet world number one Caroline Wozniacki in the women's last four.
The latter two will meet either Australia's Sam Stosur or unseeded German Angelique Kerber.
Their semi has been moved from centre court to the Grandstand, one of the smallest showcourts, because of the schedule and leakage problems at Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Nadal may have been struggling with his form and confidence for the past few months but the defending champion showed he has lost none of his ruthless ambition against Roddick, who was battling a leg injury.
"Even if I lose tomorrow, I am happy about my US Open," Nadal said. "It wasn't an easy situation for me coming to this tournament after not having an easy summer.
"I am doing a lot of things much better than a few weeks ago. For me, a win is important but to feel competitive and have the feeling that I can win is probably even more important."
Murray was less convincing against Isner as the 6ft 9in American provided a stiffer test than his countryman.
He took a set off Murray and pushed the fourth to a tiebreak.
"When he's serving you have no option other than to just try and get yourself in the rallies," the Scot said. "You're under a lot of pressure on your own service games, so you don't want to just be rash and start trying to make huge winners or do anything stupid."