Andy Murray will play his third Sony Open final here on Sunday after recovering from a first-set loss Friday night to beat an injured Richard Gasquet, 6-7, 6-1, 6-2.
Murray will face David Ferrer, who beat Tommy Haas earlier Friday in the other men’s semi.
Friday’s late match was threatening to become a classic between two brilliant strikers but was ruined by Gasquet’s inability to move properly to his right after winning the first-set tiebreaker 7-3.
Gasquet had suffered an ankle injury two weeks ago at Indian Wells and referred to it after the match, but when the trainer was called, it was to have a toe blister attended to rather than any further attention to the ankle.
“Yes, I had an ankle problem,” said Gasquet. “But I didn’t lose because of that. Andy’s tough. I lose because he is very good.”
Nicely spoken, but the fact remained that Murray, who had lost his way in the first set after a brilliant patch when he recovered from 0-3 to win four out of five games, needed only to hit deep to the Frenchman’s forehand in the latter part of the contest to win the point.
He knows what it is like to try and run on a blister, having suffered a similar problem while playing Novak Djokovic in the final of this year’s Australian Open. If you can’t run freely at this level, the chances of winning are next to zero.
Nevertheless, the crowd was offered spectacular entertainment in the early part of the match as Murray tried to break down Gasquet’s classic one-handed backhand during the course of some amazing rallies. The 26-year-old Frenchman, who has never quite realized his potential, displayed his court craft on several occasions, none better than when he swiveled after being wrong-footed and flicked a forehand cross-court winner past his startled opponent.
But, long before the end, Murray knew he was heading for the final on a court he uses frequently for training in the off-season.
“We had some great points, and he hit some unbelievable shots,” Murray said afterward. “But he wasn’t moving too well to the forehand side in the third set, and I had to try and make him run.”
Mission accomplished for the Scot, who has the chance of moving up to No. 2 in the world if he can win the title.
Earlier, Haas had made a bold bid to reach the final five days before his 35th birthday, but Ferrer, that relentless roadrunner from Spain, was too tough, too determined and, in the end, just too good.
Despite breaking serve twice in the final set, Haas went down, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, to Ferrer, who will be appearing in his fourth final of the year, having won titles in Auckland and Buenos Aires.
In a match that ebbed and flowed in the mild afternoon sunshine, Haas roared to a 5-2 first-set lead, but, revealingly, could not close it out when he served for the set the first time.
Suddenly finding his rhythm, Ferrer started to cut out the errors that, uncharacteristically, had been hampering his game, and it was never as easy again for the German.
With Ferrer looking more and more like the man who will return to a ranking of No. 4 in the world next week, Haas struggled through the early games of the second set and finally buckled when a double fault and a bad forehand that flew long gave the Spaniard the break for 4-2.
Was Haas spent? Evidently not, because he capitalized on some poor serving from Ferrer and broke in the first game of the third. And despite losing his serve, Haas broke again and held to establish a 3-1 lead.
“I felt pretty good at 3-1,” said a frustrated Haas afterward. “But against someone like him, you have to take your chances, and I came up short. Serving at 3-2, I couldn’t buy a first serve. That hurt me quite a bit now I look back on it.”
In that crucial sixth game, Haas’ inability to put pressure on his opponent with his serve left him battling one of the game’s best baseline chasers in just the kind of rallies he wanted to avoid. It ended with Haas dropping serve yet again, as he put a forehand long to terminate one of the longest rallies of the match. The momentum had changed for the last time.
“I started to get a lot of deep balls, and he made life pretty tough on me,” said Haas. “But, looking at the whole picture, beating Novak Djokovic and coming back to beat Gilles Simon — it’s been an unbelievable tournament, something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
It has been a remarkable revival for Haas, a Florida resident who was ranked No. 2 in the world in 2002 before a series of injuries threw his career off the rails. He was out for 15 months after shoulder surgery and later underwent hip surgery. This time last year he was ranked 145 but will move up to No. 14 when the new ATP rankings come out on Monday.
That is some achievement at an age when most players contemplate retirement.
Ferrer was just thrilled to have put himself in a position to win an ATP Masters 1000 title, having won his first one at the Paris Indoors last November.
“I just try to fight for every point,” he said. “I know Tommy, in the third set, was a little bit more tired than me, and I just tried to keep my focus.”