Tennis

Nadal outlasts hobbled Murray in Monaco

Andy Murray
Andy Murray fought problems with his arm throughout Saturday's match.
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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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MONACO

Rafael Nadal applauded Andy Murray off the court at the end of their 2 hour, 58 minute duel in the Monte Carlo sun. Rafa, who came through in an enthralling, high class encounter, 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, to reach the final here for the seventh straight year knows what it is like to play injured against Murray (he was unfit in the 2008 U.S. Open semifinal) and now Murray had played injured against Nadal.

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In fact, the Scot nearly defaulted the match, which was delayed 30 minutes to allow a cortisone injection to take effect. He then proceeded to play even with the world No. 1 on Nadal's favorite surface for 2 hours, 20 minutes with a numb elbow. It was an incredible effort and it produced yet more superb tennis of a kind that these two seem to conjure up on so many occasions.

Their semifinal at the ATP World Finals in London last November was a real classic, and a lot of the tennis played in the first two sets here matched it. Murray, who played very well here in the second set against Nadal in the 2009 semifinal, enjoys pitting his wits against the Spaniard and demonstrated just why to a packed, appreciative crowd by coming out of a fiercely contested second set in the ascendancy. The score of 6-2 does not begin to tell the story of a set that included a 19-minute game at 2-1 with Murray surviving five break back points.

Nadal appeared frustrated by Murray's tactics when he double faulted to go 2-5 down because the world No. 4 had managed to do the impossible against this clay court titan — win the long rallies and long games.

"You need to do that against him," Murray said. "You need to play long games and accept you're going to have unbelievably long points. But I did it by being patient and playing the ball high. When you play the ball flat against Rafa, he dictates all the points. When he left it short, I was stepping in, using the angles well."

Roger Federer

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It all nearly didn't happen. Murray had felt some elbow pain while beating Federico Gil on Friday and felt it return when he tried to serve in practice today.

"I didn't know what it was and it was 2:20 p.m. before I saw a doctor. I had had an ultra sound scan an hour earlier but I didn't know until 3:05 (five minutes past match time) whether I was going to play. By then I had hit for a few minutes and everything felt numb so I decided to give it a go."

Whether that turns out to have been a good decision remains to be seen. Apparently there might be a piece of chipped bone floating in the elbow because Murray could feel a clicking sound when the injection wore off and he called for a time out at 0-3 in the third set. The doctor told him he would not do further damage but some ex-players here felt that it was a dubious assertion.

"There is pain for a reason," said TV analyst Annabel Croft, a former British No. 1. "Pain tells you there is something wrong with your body. Playing Nadal for nearly three hours is not going to do it any good."

Murray was planning to have an MRI Monday before heading off to Barcelona where he is due to play in a couple of days.

Nadal, meanwhile, admitted that he had played too short and allowed Murray to dictate with "his fantastic cross court backhand." For the second straight tournament Nadal admitted to feeling "really, really tired." That was what he said after losing to Novak Djokovic in the final of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami two weeks ago and it was the same here.

"I am sure he was tired, too, but at the end of the second set, I was dead," Nadal said.

This is slightly ominous for Nadal's chances of continuing his amazing run at the Monte Carlo Country Club where he has not lost a match since Guillermo Coria beat him in 2003. Sunday he was due to meet fellow Spaniard David Ferrer — a long distance runner if ever tennis has had one — in the final.

Earlier, Ferrer had recovered from 1-3 in the first set to outplay the Austrian left hander Jurgen Melzer 6-3, 6-2. Ferrer, who has not dropped a set so far, had finished his match by 2:15 p.m. while a single shaft of sunlight, piercing just one corner of the court, was all that was left of a cool afternoon by the time Nadal finally ended Murray's challenge.

Nadal has no illusions about the task facing him as he goes for a seventh straight Monte Carlo title.

"He has had a fantastic start to the season," said Rafa. "He didn't lose a set on clay yet this year. He won Acapulco and he beat me in Australia. He's very dangerous, no?"

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