Murray slays the current No. 1, but the king of New York remains
NEW YORK -- All had changed.
More than a day after laying claim to a two sets-to-none lead yet down a break in the third against Rafael Nadal, 21-year-old Andy Murray returned to Flushing Meadows for a continuation Sunday evening. The heavy humidity and pouring rains that had conspired to delay their match a day earlier gave way to clear skies and light winds off the East River as the setting shifted from Louis Armstrong Stadium to Arthur Ashe Stadium. In front of the new backdrop, Murray lost the third set and fell further back to defend the baseline as Nadal, the lively lefty, made his run in the dying sunlight. Down 3-1 in the fourth, Murray was forced to scramble.
"It was slipping slightly," Murray said.
To staunch the momentum, the nimble Murray held serve and then turned back Nadal's service twice to collect five of the last six games. On match point, Nadal tried to drop shot a winner, only to witness Murray return a passing shot that landed him in his first Grand Slam final.
"There was a few sort of ups and downs even though it was a very short time on court," Murray said of Sunday's portion of his 6-2, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 semifinal win.
Murray, the sixth-ranked player in the world, has been derided in the past for his physical and mental toughness. This year, however, the son of former Scottish national team coach Judy Murray has flexed his muscles -- literally. After outlasting Frenchman Richard Gasquet in a Wimbledon five-setter this year, he rolled back his shirtsleeve to reveal a defined ball of muscle.
Likewise, after surviving another five-setter against Jurgen Melzer last week, Murray flashed his British bicep again -- showing the results of a year traveling with two new trainers. Comedian Will Ferrell returned the gesture on center court Sunday, doffing his cap and putting down his binoculars before flexing himself.
The fourth set featured a mini New York Marathon run for the frame's second game. On Nadal's serve, 22 points and seven break points were played over a 15-minute period, ending in Nadal's save of the game, leaving Murray, who trained last year with American sprint champion Michael Johnson, worn but not worried. At one point in the set, the muscular Nadal relented, bending over while his chest heaved. "When you're running around on the track, it is much worse than anything you feel on the tennis court," Murray said.
While Murray ran down winners, his next opponent, four-time and defending U.S. Open champion Roger Federer, practiced casually on the courts outside Arthur Ashe. Making himself accustomed to the shadows of the evening hours in Flushing, Federer had said after his semifinal win that he would like to face Nadal as a re-engagement of their five-set Wimbledon classic. Instead, he will now face Murray, who holds a 2-1 record over the world's recently dethroned star.
"I played well enough to beat the No. 1 player in the world over two days," Murray said. "And I've beaten Roger in the past."
Forecasts call for a sunny day burning into a cool, clear-skies night on Monday. The venue will be the same for Murray, who first watched the women's singles final between Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin as a 15-year-old on the junior circuit, but the stakes will be different. Positioned as the last in line to prevent a continuation of Federer's Gotham reign, Murray, who is also seeking to be the first British player to win a Grand Slam since Fred Perry in 1936, will play for his own coronation.
By night's end, he should know whether he is fit to be king of New York.