London: Rafael Nadal crushed Andy Murray’s Wimbledon dream for the second time in three years on Friday to reach his fourth Wimbledon final.
The Spanish world number one seized on the few opportunities Murray offered up in a compelling contest to win 6-4 7-6 6-4 and go through to face Czech Tomas Berdych in Sunday’s showpiece.
Britain’s wait for a first men’s champion at the All England Club since Fred Perry’s 1936 title will go on for another year although little blame could be attached to Murray who matched the 2008 champion blow for blow.
Only when Nadal broke back to level the third set at 4-4 did fourth seed Murray’s resolve finally crack and two games later he blazed a volley over the baseline to send Nadal flat on his back in celebration.
“It was a very, very good match for me,” the 24-year-old Nadal, who was unable to defend his title last year because of injury, said on court after consoling his crestfallen opponent.
“To beat him you have to play your best tennis because he is one of the toughest opponents in the world.”
With David Beckham watching with his son from the seats just behind Murray’s entourage, there was a huge sense of anticipation as the players walked out on court for their 11th career meeting and fifth in grand slam play.
Two years ago in the quarter-finals Murray was overwhelmed by Nadal on the same rectangle of turf but his performances here this time, together with a few dropped sets for Nadal, had hopes of a home champion soaring.
There was nothing between the players in the first set. Murray was aggressive, often striking the first blow in the baseline rallies but Nadal flung back everything with his trademark fizzing topspin.
Murray cracked down two aces in the ninth game but a double fault and then a scintillating forehand return from Nadal suddenly had the Scot in trouble.
Nadal grabbed his chance to achieve the set’s only break of serve when Murray sent a lame forehand wide which had the fourth seed beating his fist into his arm in frustration.
Murray dropped just two points on his serve and was the better player in a riveting second set but again he was left to rue a couple of crucial moments.
Nadal was 15-40 down on serve in the eighth game but Murray was distracted by a mobile phone ring to net a forehand then Nadal fended off the second break point with a dipping forehand angled across the tramlines.
The tension was suffocating in the tiebreak and it seemed to have got to Nadal when he double-faulted at 5-5 to give Murray a point to level the match.
Once more the Spaniard’s nerve was armour-plated, as he produced a stunning drop volley to level at 6-6. He then got lucky when a backhand pass flicked off the net and jumped over Murray’s racket frame.
Nadal clinched the set with a forehand winner and Murray bounced his racket angrily into the turf.
There still seemed hope when Murray started brightly in the third set, breaking Nadal to love to the delight of the partisan crowd but their joy did not last long as Nadal broke back in the eighth game and broke again to seal victory.