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Tennis

Andy Murray beats Rafa Nadal, sets up Madrid final vs Novak Djokovic

Enrique de la Fuente/Actionplus/Icon Sportswire
Enrique de la Fuente/Actionplus/Icon Sportswire

Their first ATP Tour level meeting happened in 2006, back when Madrid was an indoor hardcourt event, and now it’s come full circle. Come Sunday, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will face each other in the Spanish capital, this time on clay and for the championship.

The match will complete the collection for the pair, having now played against one another in each of the current incarnations of the 15 biggest tournaments in men’s tennis: four Grand Slams, nine Masters 1000s, the World Tour Finals and Olympic singles.

Attempting to defend a Masters 1000 for the first time since 2011, Murray got back to the final by eliminating the man he beat for the 2015 title: Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard was the favorite both in terms of gambling and the crowd, but Murray got the job done, 7-5, 6-4, by sustaining the aggression he showed in the first half of Nadal’s semifinal victory at the Monte-Carlo Masters a couple weeks back.

Murray served at just 54% but had eight aces and seemingly came up with a bomb on most of the break points he faced. Broken both times to close out sets, Murray steeled himself to break back in both instances.

The result might have been beneficial for Nadal as well, despite having his 13-match win streak snapped. While some will sound the panic alarm over the loss being a potential setback in regaining his peak form, Nadal’s play had all his usual trademarks of simply being fatigued: didn’t clamp down on break points, inconsistent shot depth, unsustained momentum and missed overhead smashes.

The loss dents his bid to regain the No. 4 ranking before the French Open, but he essentially needed to beat Djokovic either in Madrid or Rome and it sure wasn’t happening in Madrid given his energy level. Nadal will now have a bit of a rest advantage in advance of a potential quarterfinal matchup with Djokovic in Rome.

As Nadal heads to Italy, Djokovic will be attempting to claim his second Madrid title after beating Kei Nishikori for the seventh straight time since Nishikori’s win in the 2014 U.S. Open semifinals. Nishikori came out on fire, garnering three break points in the opening game, but Djokovic saved them with a handful of great serves.

After going toe-to-toe through six games, it was Djokovic who pulled away and served for the match at 6-3, 5-4. The World No. 1 was up 40-0 in that game but got tight and failed to convert four match points. A flurry of amazing play from both sent the set to a tiebreaker, which went to Djokovic, 7-4.

As always, Djokovic is the heavy favorite against Murray for the title. He leads their head-to-head on clay 3-0 (though their meetings at Rome in 2011 and the French Open last year were compelling and close) and has won 11 of their 12 overall meetings since Murray prevailed in the 2013 Wimbledon final.

Elsewhere:

-Caroline Garcia and Kiki Mladenovic continued their hot streak, beating the world’s top team of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza for the women’s doubles title. After winning 13 titles since pairing up a year ago, including the last three Grand Slams, Hingis and Mirza have lost in their last five tournaments.

-Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut fell short of their bid to become the first players, singles or doubles, to win the first four Masters 1000s of the season. The French duo lost to Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau, who will play Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea for the men’s doubles title.

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