Andy Murray ended Rafael Nadal’s 100 percent start to the European clay-court season and moved into the final of the Madrid Open after beating the Spaniard for a second straight year at Caja Magica. The world No. 2 triumphed in their semifinal in straight sets, 7-5 6-4, in two hours and 11 minutes and will now take on either Novak Djokovic or Kei Nishikori in attempt to defend his title on Sunday.
Last year’s final win over Nadal in the Spanish capital was his first ever against the nine-time French Open champion on clay. And he replicated that on Saturday to halt Nadal’s winning streak on the surface at 13 matches.
After claiming the titles in Monte Carlo, where he beat Murray in the semifinals, and Barcelona last month, Nadal appeared to be getting back to his best after a difficult 18 months. But he failed to get going in front of his home fans on Saturday.
Murray, who, after brushing aside Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, talked about the improvements he has tried to make to his second serve in recent weeks, again served well, saving 11 of 13 break points. From the back of the court, too, it was often the Briton taking the initiative.
He snapped up his first break point to help move into a 4-1 lead in the first set. The quality at times wasn’t particularly high from both players. Nadal, not finding the depth or consistency he had rediscovered of late, was simply hanging on at times with his famed defense. It was enough to help him break Murray when serving for the opening set at 5-3. But the defending champion was undeterred and, with the help of some timid Nadal serving, ended a scrappy set with a flourish thanks to a big forehand return down the line to break for a second time.
“I think I used my forehand pretty good during the match and I was able to push him back behind the baseline,” Murray told Sky Sports afterward. “I felt like I made a lot of returns in play so was able to make him work hard in his service games.
“Rafa doesn’t serve as hard as everyone else but he puts a lot of pressure on your return because if you don’t hit a good one he dictates the point straight away with the forehand. I was able to get some quite good direction on the returns and I think that helped me a lot today.”
Still, Murray would have known plenty of work remained to be done. In the Monte Carlo semifinals, the former Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion played superbly to win the opening set but saw Nadal come back to claim victory.
When down three break points in the first game of the opening set, a repeat looked a distinct possibility. This time, though, Murray held on.
“The beginning of the second set in Monte Carlo he came out having lost the first and really raised his intensity and I didn’t, Murray added. “Today that first game in the beginning of the second, again he raised the intensity and had a few break point chances but I felt like I raised my level as well.
“It’s easy after winning a tight first set to drop your intensity or your level and I really tried to stay on top at the beginning of the second and that was important.”
Murray got on top in the second set when breaking for a 4-2 lead. But once again, at the first time of asking when serving for the set he stumbled, missing a chance on his first match point as Nadal broke back. Murray’s response was an immediate one, breaking Nadal the very next game to move into the final of a tournament he needs to defend in order to avoid losing his No. 2 ranking to Roger Federer.