Thursday, 25 September 2008

Murray beats Nadal 6-2, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4

Christmas came early for me this year, although it does not normally come with feelings of nausea four days beforehand. At one ‘o’ clock in the morning on Thursday 4th September, I put teletext on to get the news I wanted to hear: Andy Murray had - finally - beat Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarter finals of the US Open in an epic five-setter. Now able to relax, I went to sleep, and awoke the next morning to find that Murray was to play Rafael Nadal in the semis.
On paper, it did not look good. Nadal held a 5-0 record against the Scot, and, aside from a defeat by Novak Djokovic at the Cincinnati Masters, was on a winning streak. However, Andy had just ended Del Potro’s winning streak. Could he finally break the run of Spanish wins, not just in tennis but in other sports? It felt right, the time felt good for him to do so. The overwhelming, gut-wrenching feeling inside me was that it was Andy’s turn; yet there was still that tiny little voice that said: “but what if he doesn’t?”.
Thinking the semis would be on the Friday, like normal Grand Slams, I got through Thursday, yet felt as though I was sitting around waiting for the match to begin. However, due to television executives in the US, the semis are held on Saturday, with the final on Sunday; and, for some strange reason, Roger Federer’s match against Djokovic was to be the first semi played, although Murray and Nadal, being in the top half of the draw, should have been on first.
On Saturday morning, I woke up from a wonderful and yet cruel dream. I had dreamed that Andy was two sets up against Nadal, but the latter fought back and won the third set, but never saw the end of the match. Waking up and realising it was just a dream was the most painful experience of my life. My household upgraded to Sky Sports that day so we could watch the match, and although I avoid Nadal’s matches like the plague, and today was to be no different, on seeing how positively Andy started, I had to stay and see what happened.
Just like in January and August when I dreamed that Andy lost in the first round of the Australian Open and the Olympics, my dream came true. I was not at all surprised when Andy took the first two sets, and not just because of the dream. Nadal was not playing at his best, but Andy was simply astounding. He dominated the points and rallies, was aggressive, came to the net, and served exceptionally.
He broke Nadal twice to take the first set 6-2, and in the second set tiebreak had the upper hand, but Nadal soon caught up. There was a terrifying moment at 5-5 when a Nadal return of the Murray second serve clipped the net, but mercifully fell into the Spaniard’s half.
Again, just like in my dream, Nadal began strongly in the third set, breaking Andy’s opening service game, and at 3-1, I learned why I never saw the end of the match in my dream: Tropical Storm Hanna arrived. The match was called off until Sunday, and the final postponed until Monday; Federer having beat Djokovic in four sets.
Although I was relieved that Nadal’s momentum had been taken away, the next twenty four hours were the longest of my life. Could Andy come out as well as he did on the Saturday, or would Nadal take the upper hand? All Andy had to do was win one set, something he was more than capable of doing. I only had four hours sleep that night, and thankfully had no more dreams about the match.
I needn’t have worried. I never have worried for Andy, not even when he was two sets and a break down against Gasquet at Wimbledon I was convinced he was going to win the match; but this was Nadal, the one player who I would love to see Andy beat more than anything.
Yet no sooner had Hanna passed by than Hurricane Andy once again arrived and caused more damage. Although he went a break down in the fourth set, his refusal to lie down enabled him to break back against the now rejuvenated Nadal. If Andy’s play had been impressive on Saturday, it was even more so on the Sunday.
At 5-4, Andy set about once again breaking Nadal’s serve, something he had done so well. Aided by the net to go 0-15 up, the rest was all Andy’s doing. Perhaps the most jaw-dropping sight of the match after the supremely high quality of the Scot’s tennis, was the sight of Nadal bent double trying to get his breath back after a long rally that gave Andy match point.
A drop-shot from Nadal was only too easily chased down by Andy, who tapped a backhand passing shot past the now helpless, now defeated Spaniard. Andy has never been one to celebrate a win by jumping up and down while pumping his fists, and today was no exception. A slight clenching of the fists and a brief closing of the eyes made for a calm and dignified acknowledgement of his stunning achievement, while his expression said just how much it meant to him.
Yet he seemed even more awed to meet Will Ferrell outside the locker rooms than by his win. Incidentally, I had been watching Will Ferrell in The Producers before turning over for the match. Further proof that the result was meant to be.
Finally, after four days of agony, I could get back to the fundamentals like eating, drinking and sleeping; although that Sunday night I lay in bed until four in the morning either grinning like Jack Nicholson in Batman, or laughing in silent hysterics as if I had just seen Stonehenge in This Is Spinal Tap. What I really wanted to do at that time, however, was imitate Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady in that scene where she could have danced all night.
For me, Andy had to beat Nadal. I knew even before their first meeting at the Australian Open two years ago that Andy had the game and the skill to win. It had to be proven that it takes more than power to win a tennis match, and Andy had to be the one to give that lesson. It may have been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait. I had joked to myself that Andy was waiting for something special to beat Nadal, but special doesn’t cover it. Put simply, there are not enough words in the English language to describe what happened that weekend at Flushing Meadows. Whatever it was, I will treasure those memories forever.
Of course, now that Andy had made my dream come true, I had to go and thank him personally for it. So, not two weeks later, my mother and I were fortunate enough to get to the practice court of Wimbledon’s Court 19 during the Davis Cup tie against Austria just before Andy arrived. While he signed my programme I thanked him, but as there were ten people trying to talk at him he may not have heard.
So, just in case you didn’t hear it the first time:
THANK YOU, ANDY!!!!!!!!!!

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