Rafael Nadal battles past Andy Murray to reach O2 final
Murray falls to Nadal in final set tie-break
ATP World Tour Finals Venue: O2 Arena, London Date: Sunday 28 November Time: 1715 GMT Coverage: Federer v Nadal live on BBC Two/BBC HD, streamed online & available through iPlayer (UK only); text commentary online and on mobiles via BBC Sport website; plus live on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra (worldwide)
By Piers Newbery at the O2 Arena
Rafael Nadal powered into the final at London's O2 Arena and brought Andy Murray's season to an end with victory in a brilliant first semi-final.
The world number one was broken when serving for the match before converting his third match point in a final set tie-break to defeat Murray 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 7-6 (8-6) at the ATP World Tour Finals.
Nadal, 24, will face Roger Federer in Sunday's final after the world number two defeated Novak Djokovic 6-1 6-4 in the second semi-final.
And it will take some performance from Federer to stop the Spaniard rounding off a season that has seen him win three of the four Grand Slams by adding the year-end title for the first time.
"Today I played one of the finest matches of my career," said Nadal, who lost all three matches on his O2 debut 12 months ago.
"It's a big emotion this afternoon. You know how tough it was for me last year. Being in the final is a dream.
"It was a difficult position for me. Andy came back well. He had an amazing passing shot. In the tie-break the only thing I could do was wait for chances.
"I want to congratulate Andy for his attitude - he's going to win a lot of Grand Slams in my opinion."
A capacity 17,500 spectators packed into the venue on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon in the hope of seeing a classic encounter, and they got their wish as both men played their part in a thrilling contest.
Such was the quality of play that there was no sign of a break point in the opening 12 games and a tie-break was required to separate them, with Nadal taking control at 5-2 as Murray struggled to find first serves.
I want to congratulate Andy for his attitude - he's going to win a lot of Grand Slams in my opinion
Murray fought back to 5-5 when he won the rally of the week, which he looked to have taken several times before chasing down a drop shot and angling away a backhand volley.
And the crowd, which if anything had marginally favoured Nadal when the players entered the arena, went wild in appreciation for a breathtaking point.
Nadal was unmoved, however, simply refusing to allow the momentum to shift as he put everything into a big serve and heavy forehand to earn a set point, and clinching it with a rare dart to the net for a drop volley.
It was tough on Murray and the Scot was in real danger at 15-40 down early in the second but he escaped and, as the set wore, on it was increasingly the Spaniard who looked the more ragged.
Murray made his move in a dramatic game seven, seeing three break points disappear from 0-40 after choosing to play a drop shot on the second with the open court gaping, but making amends moments later with a spectacular cross-court backhand that flew past Nadal.
The Briton was enjoying such a burst of form that he broke again to seal the set after playing one winner down the line with a broken string.
I'm disappointed to lose but it was a great match; there were so many long rallies, so many good points
He appeared ready to strike early in the decider at 0-30 in game two, but the inconsistency that has dogged Murray all year came back to bite him once again as he made four unforced errors to let the game slip away.
Nadal continued to hunt down every ball and broke serve for the first time in the match in game three thanks, in part, to another poor drop shot from Murray at deuce, allowing the Spaniard to move ahead with a vicious backhand return.
Murray had a chance to get back into the match at 15-40 in game six but he netted a forehand on the first break point, and there seemed no way back as Nadal closed in on victory.
When the Spaniard missed a match point in game nine with a surprisingly poor return off a weak second serve it did not seem likely to alter the outcome as he still had his serve to come.
But Murray came storming back into contention by breaking with a magnificent backhand down the line.
Murray played some of his finest tennis to push Nadal all the way
The result was now on a knife-edge and the O2 crowd at fever pitch, but the drama increased further still as Murray saved a break point at 5-5 in the decider with an ace.
There was only one way such a match could be settled and the decisive tie-break lived up to the three hours of tennis that had preceded it.
Murray moved 4-1 clear after another of those heavy cross-court backhands, only for Nadal to bludgeon his way to a second match point at 6-5 with some huge forehands that left his opponent sprawled on his back behind the baseline.
Again, the Briton hauled himself off the canvas to level at 6-6 but a forehand into the tramlines offered Nadal a third match point, and a blistering forehand winner brought the Spaniard victory after three hours and 11 minutes of breathtaking tennis.
"It was a great match, I think both of us played very well. I probably played one bad game the whole match, or maybe just a couple of bad points," said Murray.
Murray seeks further improvement
"I'm disappointed to lose but it was a great match; there were so many long rallies, so many good points.
"I kind of knew when I was out there that it was a great match. The noise the crowd made when we changed ends at 6-6 in the tie-break was pretty incredible.
"It's nice in some ways to be involved in matches like that, but it's not nice losing them."
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