Andy Murray reached the first grand slam final of his career with the result of his life to beat world number one Rafael Nadal in a rain-delayed US Open semi-final in New York tonight.
Murray, 21, returned to the court 26 hours after a downpour from Tropical Storm Hanna had left him leading two sets to love but a break down in the third to complete a 6-2 7-6 (7/5) 4-6 6-4 victory over Nadal after three hours and 30 minutes of play across the two days.
Murray now faces four-time defending champion and tournament second seed Roger Federer in tomorrow night’s final, when the Scot will be the first Briton to contest a grand slam final since Greg Rusedski lost to Patrick Rafter in the 1997 US Open final.
Sixth seed Murray will be bidding to go one better than Rusedski and become the first British man to win a grand slam since Fred Perry succeeded at the US Open in 1936.
And despite having a day’s less rest than Federer, who knocked out third seed Novak Djokovic yesterday, Murray’s confidence will be sky high after a performance that displayed his new-found athleticism and mental strength as well as his natural talent.
Murray had been looking to get straight back in the groove against Nadal having taken that big lead at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre’s Louis Armstrong Stadium last night.
Both men were playing in their first US Open semi-final and play resumed on the main show court, Arthur Ashe Stadium, with Murray 3-2 down in the third as the sunshine returned to New York following a solid 12 hours of rain and the temperatures returned to the mid-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
History was still on 22-year-old Nadal’s side having won all five of his previous meetings with Murray, whose opening-set victory yesterday had been the first time he had taken a set off the Spaniard since their first encounter at the 2007 Australian Open.
Nadal, the French Open, Wimbledon and Olympic champion, had admitted he was feeling tired and below his best coming into the US Open and he had looked extremely flat in the gloomy atmosphere.
Yet having worked a break in the first game of the third set before the rains came, the top seed came out strongly as play resumed, serving out the first game of the day to love to take a 4-2 lead.
Murray was still on top of his game, though, responding with two perfect service games – but the 22-year-old world number one moved back into contention at two sets to one.
The fourth set was a real rollercoaster ride. Having lost the initiative in the first game of the previous set, the pressure was on Murray to hold serve early in the fourth.
A double fault at 30-all looked ominous for the British number one but he saved break point with an ace and worked an advantage when Nadal sent a poor forehand wide before finally holding a crucial first game.
The next game was an epic, 15 minutes in the making and with Murray earning and losing seven break points before Nadal won it on the 22nd point of the game, to tie the fourth set at 1-1.
Those seven missed break points looked to be preying on Murray as Nadal swept to three break points, all thanks to unforced errors from the server, and a fourth mistake from a suddenly weary-looking British number one handed the game and the initiative to the world number one.
Nadal began his next service game with a double fault and was trailing 0-30 before more Murray lapses let him back in and he closed out for a 3-1 lead as the Scot sent back a return into the net.
Murray had to regain his mental sharpness against a resurgent Nadal but he quickly went 0-30 again. That proved to be the turning point for the Scot, however, as he bounced back for an important hold.
It gave Murray the wake-up call he needed and in the next game it was Nadal’s turn to lose concentration at deuce, failing to put away a backhand winner at the net with a weak shot into the net and Murray seized the moment to break back at 3-3.
He secured the break back in style with a service game to love, taking the game with a brilliant backhand half-volley winner as Nadal looked to have saved the point with a backhand volley at the net.
Nadal had to dig deep just to hold serve against the rejuvenated Murray, saving his ninth break point of the set but he could do nothing on the British number one’s own serve and Murray moved to 5-4 with his 21st ace of the match, just one game from his first grand slam final.
At 40-30 to Nadal, Murray saved game point by winning a superb rally and he earned match point by winning another after coming to the net and putting away a forehand volley.
Nadal tried a drop shot that Murray scampered to reach and he sealed victory with a winner past the world number one that was straightforward in its execution but life altering for the 21-year-old from Dunblane.