Andy Murray defeats Rafael Nadal in Spaniard’s first match of injury comeback

Rafael Nadal announces end to 2021 season through injury

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Murray and Nadal hadn’t met on a match court since May 2016.

The last time the pair faced off was in the 2016 Madrid Masters semi-final, with the Brit winning 7-5 6-4, which came just two weeks after Nadal beat him 2-6 6-4 6-4 in the Monte Carlo Masters semi-final.

The Spaniard was playing his first match in more than four months, after shutting down his season early with a foot injury.

With Nadal’s form unknown and Murray getting a match-win under his belt on Thursday (December 16) in the knockout stage against Dan Evans, the world No 134 was arguably the slight favourite of the two going into the semi-final.

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While the world No 6 was the first to put pressure on his opponent’s service game at 1-1, it was Murray who struck and got the first break of the set to lead 4-2, recovering after losing an incredible rally to the Spaniard.

The world No 134 was able to hold on and take the opener 6-3 but Nadal halted his momentum in a lengthy four-deuce opening service game in the second set, saving a break point as the crowd erupted into chants of “let’s go Rafa” when he held serve.

The two tour veterens got into some longer exchanges in the second set, with Murray taking the exhibition tournament as seriously as a competition, showing his frustration and muttering to himself when he missed a shot.

And while only a certain amount can be judged about Nadal’s game while in an exhibition match, the 35-year-old was clearly showing some rustiness but didn’t appear physically hindered, with his trademark intensity there throughout as he managed to run Murray around the court during some of the rallies.

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After a neck-and-neck second set, Murray was able to break for a crucial 6-5 lead and give himself the chance to serve out the match.

Nadal didn’t seem happy when a line call didn’t go his way during the 5-5 game, and after managing to fend off the Brit multiple times throughout the second set, finally gave a break away when he hit a shot long on break point.

Murray, who has not been the younger and more in-form player in a match for a long time, was able to halt Nadal’s comeback and hand his old Big Four rival a loss in his first match after injury, closing out the match 6-3 7-5.

The current world No 134 now faces world No 5 Andrey Rublev in Saturday’s (December 18) final.

The Russian defeated world No 14 Denis Shapovalov in a tight three-set battle 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 in the first semi-final of the day.

It means Nadal will now play the 22-year-old in the third-place play-off before the final.

Despite losing the match, there were plenty of encouraging signs for Nadal, who had not played since losing to Lloyd Harris in the Washington ATP 500 round-of-16 on August 6.

Prior to the match, he said he had no expectations of himself during the initial stages of his comeback.

“My only expectation is to be here, to play in front of a great crowd again, to feel myself competing again against great players, and then enjoy. It has been a very tough period of time for me, honestly, so just to be here is great news for me,” he told reporters in Abu Dhabi.

The 20-time Major champion had also downplayed his Australian Open chances, as he is set to begin his 2022 season and make his retirn to the ATP Tour in Melbourne following his stint at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.

“It’s going to be super difficult for me. If things are going well, I’m only going to play one tournament before Australia and these two matches here so the amount of hours on court at the competitive level before such a tough and demanding tournament like Australia will be not much but the main thing is still always the same – be healthy. If I am healthy, I still have the interior fire to keep going and to fight for my goals,” Nadal added.

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