Andy Murray powers through Rafael Nadal to Toronto final
The city of Toronto must be counting its lucky stars. Its showpiece tennis event, the Rogers Cup, has whittled down to the top four seeds for the first time in its history.
It has already been an exhilarating ride, with Rafael Nadal pushed to three sets by Philipp Kohlschreiber, Andy Murray suffering a bagel between two excellent sets of tennis against Gael Monfils, Novak Djokovic looking close to collapse in his first match before sailing through his subsequent rounds, and Roger Federer capping them all with a comeback for the record books against his Wimbledon conqueror Tomas Berdych.
So the title could go to any one of them, but for three, a win in Toronto had an added significance. Murray needed to reach the final to keep his No4 ranking, and the winner of the Djokovic and Federer match-up would take the No2 ranking. Only Nadal, almost 4,000 points clear at the top, had nothing to lose.
The four men have blanketed the top of the rankings -apart from three weeks at No4 for Juan Martin Del Potro -for the better part of two years. So they have met each other at the business end of tournaments on countless occasions.
Take Federer against Murray. They have played 11 times, all on hard courts and, highly significant should they meet in the final, Murray leads by six wins to five. The last three times, though, he was on the losing side.
Take Nadal. He has played Djokovic 21 times and beaten him in 14 of them. His stats against Federer are identical. And against Murray, in the first semi-final in Toronto, he was lined up for a 12th meeting. Murray had won just three of their previous matches but, and it was a big but, they were all on hard courts.
And so to that 12th encounter. It was an inauspicious opening point for Murray: a double fault. But from that moment, he never looked back.
Despite a service percentage hovering at around 45%, he dominated a Nadal who seemed unable to get a footing against this offensive Murray. Typically, the Spaniard finds a rhythm against a counter-punching baseline game, but Murray shed those tactics and went on the attack. He signed off the first set, 6-3, with three aces and an outright one-two winner. It was impressive finishing.
Murray continued to pursue Nadal like a terrier in the second set, too. Not only did he match the ground-stroke firepower of the Spaniard, but seemed able to generate more angle and more depth on both wings. He threw in the occasional drop shot to break things up and stepped into the court to receive Nadal’s serve.
The rallies in the first three games were sometimes reaching 24 or more strokes. That normally sounds the death knell for Nadal’s opponents, but the fast, true courts of Toronto allowed Murray to play with confidence and to generate breathtaking pace as soon as an opening appeared.
In the third game, after eight minutes of intense hitting from both men, Murray broke through for an early break and held his own serve with ease.
But Nadal is not one to back off and with his increasing range of skills, he was able to change his angle of attack. He started to swing his serve wide to the Murray backhand, and followed it into the net to finish. He held his service game with relative ease and then took his attack to the Murray serve.
From 3-1 down, Nadal gradually upped the power on his massive bullwhip forehand, driving it deep to the Murray two-handed backhand, and then into the very corner of the forehand. He picked up drops with drops of his own, and the fist pumps began. The fire was ignited, and he pulled Murray back to lead 4-3.
In the eighth game, Murray found himself 15-40 down but turned the tide not with serving but with big forehands to the Nadal backhand. It is a play that often reaps rewards from the Nadal game, and it helped Murray to draw level at 4-4.
That resistance under pressure was enough to get the adrenalin coursing through Murray’s veins for his second onslaught. He bullied the Nadal serve with bullet-like drives wide to both wings to go 40-0 up. Nadal pulled two points back with a couple of great winners, but Murray took the third break point to serve for the match.
He made no mistakes, taking the set 6-4, and scoring a significant and impressive straight-sets win over the best in the world.
Murray is now guaranteed to keep his No4 ranking over Robin Soderling, but he will have to wait a little longer to find out who he must beat to retain his Canadian title.
Whether it is Federer or Djokovic, he should have few concerns. His record against both men is good. And in this form, he can beat both.