Rafael Nadal cut world number two Andy Murray down to size with an impressive 6-4 6-1 victory at the ATP World Tour Finals on Wednesday which provided further evidence of the Spaniard’s return to his former powers.
A distracted Murray, who bizarrely clipped his fringe with a pair of scissors during one changeover early on, capitulated, but only after Nadal had softened him up with the kind of ferocious hitting that earned him 14 grand slam titles.
Ripping forehands to all corners of the court and moving smoothly, the 29-year-old dominated throughout to qualify for the semi-finals with a match to spare and leave Murray facing a Friday decider against Stanislas Wawrinka.
Nadal’s progress could have been held up had compatriot David Ferrer beaten Wawrinka in the evening session, but having led 5-2 in the first set and having a set point, Ferrer succumbed, losing 7-5 6-2 to the Swiss world number four.
Having failed to win a grand slam title for the first year since 2004, and temporarily sliding to 10th in the world rankings, the naysayers have been out in force predicting Nadal’s demise but the former world number one continued his recent renaissance against Murray. It was a powerful performance that would have had his worldwide army of fans purring.
“For me to be able to play at that level against such a great player is good news,” Nadal, who will top the group whatever happens against Ferrer on Friday, told reporters.
“Happy for that. I just want to try to keep working the same way to keep confirming that I am in the completely right direction. Today I felt free. I was enjoying on court.” For British world number two Murray, his thoughts may already be drifting towards next week’s Davis Cup final against Belgium on a claycourt in Ghent, although victory over Wawrinka on Friday will earn him a place in the semi-finals.
“I think he was hitting the ball extremely well today from the back of the court,” Murray told.
“From the middle till the end of the second set he played extremely well. But I didn’t really help myself. I served poorly at the end of the first set and all through the second.
“Obviously I lost comfortably to Rafa today and I could play him in a couple days’ time and it could be a different story.” Murray won only 10% of points on his second serve in the second set, and a nine-point losing streak virtually sealed his fate and left him waiting for a first win over Nadal in London, having lost three times to him at Wimbledon and once before at the O2 Arena in 2010.
He became slightly irritated when asked about his mid-match haircut, saying: “I don’t know why such minor things make such a big deal to you guys.
“I had some hair in my eye, and I just wanted to get rid of it. That literally took two seconds.” The 28-year-old’s vision had looked clear enough at the start of the match, breaking serve in the opening game, only to drop his own serve immediately as Nadal worked the angles.
Trailing 2-3, Murray did well to fend off three break points, but he found himself 15-40 down again two games later, and once more wriggled out of danger. His luck ran out though. Nadal creamed a forehand winner to bring up three set points at 4-5 and needed just one as he ran Murray ragged before winning the point with a deft volley.
An awful service game from Murray allowed Nadal a quick break in the second set and the Mallorcan needed no second invitation to stomp towards victory.