Saturday 16 December 2017

Murray's failure to seize day punished by Nadal

Mark Hodgkinson

Lawn tennis has changed in so many ways since those gentle days when someone known as Bunny reached a Wimbledon final.

But one aspect that remains the same is that players have to take their chances, and this will be remembered as the occasion when Andy Murray fired long with what should have been a simple forehand and so blasted a seven-game hole in this semi-final against Rafael Nadal.

For the second summer in a row, Nadal welted a great number of forehands past Murray on Centre Court, and then came to the net at the end and said sorry.

The Spaniard came from a set down to win 5-7 6-2 6-2 6-4 to reach his fifth Wimbledon final, to play Novak Djokovic tomorrow.

One point had an enormous effect the momentum, psychology and emotion of this match. There is a parallel universe at the All England Club in which Murray, having struck the ball brilliantly to take the opening set, then also landed that forehand in the fourth game of the second to give himself two break points against the defending champion.

Murray had a lot of court to aim at, and had that ball landed inside the court he would have been extremely well placed. As it was, the ball bounced just beyond the baseline, and suddenly the air was escaping out of Murray's Wimbledon balloon.

So the run of successive defeats by British men in Wimbledon semi-finals reached 11, and Bunny Austin, the runner-up in 1938, remains the last Briton to have played for the title.

With this defeat, Murray became only the second man in the Open era to be beaten in his first three Wimbledon semi-finals, the only other player being Tim Henman, who would go on to lose a fourth. Once again, a roadblock appeared on the grass for the locals on semi-finals day.

A couple of years ago, Murray could not deal with Andy Roddick on a day that the American turned in the smartest grass-court performance of his life, and last summer the Scot had Nadal's forehands rearing up off the turf and at his throat.

No one should imagine that, had Murray made that forehand yesterday, he would definitely have broken serve, and then definitely gone on to win, but he would have given himself every chance.

Perhaps Nadal, one of the greatest players of all time, was always going to make another final.

Murray won the first set by playing attacking tennis, and it was always going to be difficult to maintain that level, regardless of whether he made that forehand or not. Something to be debated in the Pimm's bar.

Nadal has not lost on these lawns since he finished as the runner-up to Roger Federer in 2007. Having won the title in 2008, he could not play in 2009 because of cranky knees, and so returned last summer and won again, extending his undefeated run here to 20 matches.

This was an occasion that demonstrated what Nadal's two key weapons are: his mental fortitude and his forehand.

Nadal, who looked every bit like someone who has won 10 Slams, never panicked, never started fretting, and took every advantage of his opponent's mental dip.

This match could be neatly divided into two parts; pre-mistake and post-mistake. Before that forehand error, it was Murray who was striking the ball with greater pace and authority. Murray was smoking winners through the grass; he was managing to out-Rafa Rafa, making more kill-shots on that side. Post-mistake, Murray's level fell away, and Nadal raised his.

By the time Nadal left the locker-room for Centre Court, he was the world No 1 in name only, as Djokovic's achievement of reaching a first Wimbledon final meant that the Serbian will be above the Spaniard when the ranking list is updated on Monday morning.

But while Nadal is about to be separated from the No 1 ranking, he has not lost the ability to smack a ball. This is the first year that this tournament has been shown in three dimensions on television, but you had to be here on Centre Court, not surfing the sofa at home, to fully appreciate how violent some of his tennis was.

This may not have contained as many diving volleys as the first semi-final, when Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga were throwing themselves around the turf, but this was never anything less than compelling.

Murray carried on where he had left off against France's Richard Gasquet and Spain's Feliciano Lopez; he was still unshaven, still uninhibited.

Murray was going for his shots against Nadal. And making them. There was a great rush of noise when Nadal sliced a backhand into the net to give Murray the opening set. It was the first one that Murray had won on grass against Nadal, having lost in straight sets when they played in the quarter-finals in 2008 and in last year's semi-final.

But then came the point that changed the match. Nadal was serving at 1-2, 15-30 in the second set and Murray had a fine opportunity with his forehand, yet he put the shot just long.

Murray double-faulted in the next game at 30-30 to give Nadal his first break point of the match, and then missed with an overhead.

Murray's game fell away, and Nadal was starting to have greater impact with his forehand.

Nadal dominated the second and third sets, then broke early in the fourth. Game over for Murray in the semi-finals at Wimbledon. Again. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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