LONDON (AP) - After relentlessly running each other all over the court for more than three hours in a match that flip-flopped throughout, Rafael Nadal got the breaks he needed Saturday to beat Andy Murray 7-6 (5), 3-6, 7-6 (6).
The top-ranked Spaniard, who won this year’s U.S. Open to complete a career Grand Slam, had to overcome a mid-match slump to reach the final of the ATP World Tour Finals for the first time.
“Incredible tennis match,” said Nadal, who has never won the season-ending event for the top eight players. “A really difficult match against one of the best players of the world.”
The French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion will face Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final at the O2 Arena.
Both players looked unbeatable throughout the first set, which Nadal won in a tiebreaker despite a late surge from Murray. But Nadal started to falter after holding serve to lead 3-2 in the second. Murray won 17 of the next 23 points _ and four straight games _ to take the set and even the score.
“I was a little bit tired in the second,” Nadal said. “And when he break me, I said, ‘Well, going to be very difficult to come back to this set.’”
Nadal never looked as good after the mid-match slump, but he managed to break Murray to take a 2-1 lead in the third set. The Spaniard then had his first match point on Murray’s serve while leading 5-3, but the fifth-ranked Briton managed to hold the game, break back to 5-5 and force the final tiebreaker.
“I probably played one bad game the whole match, or maybe just a couple of bad points,” Murray said. “But, yeah, it was great tennis. I think both of us played well pretty much from the beginning of the match.”
In the tiebreaker, Murray won the first three points _ two of them on Nadal’s serve _ and looked like he was going to roll to victory. But Nadal clawed back to 4-4 before getting another match point at 6-5.
“Even when I was losing 4-1, 3-0 in the final tiebreak, I was happy,” Nadal said. “I was saying, ‘Just try to be there,’ because always (there is) still a chance for me.”
“It was one of those matches where you kind of knew _ so many long rallies, so many good points _ I kind of knew when I was out there that it was a great match,” Murray said. “It’s nice in some ways to be involved in matches like that. But it’s not nice losing them.”