TORONTO (Reuters) - Briton Andy Murray cleared a major hurdle in his Toronto Masters title defense brushing aside world number one Rafa Nadal 6-3 6-4 on Saturday to storm into the final.
Murray, who needed to reach Sunday’s final to retain his number four world ranking, can now focus on clinching his first title of the season and becoming the first back-to-back winner on the Canadian hardcourts since Andre Agassi in 1995.
The match was the first half of a rare doubleheader featuring the world’s top four ranked players. It is just the 14th time in 25 years, and sixth in the last 10, that the world’s top-four men are facing each other in the semi-finals of an ATP Tour event.
Murray’s victory ended any chance of the dream final fans had been hoping for between Nadal and Roger Federer.
The Swiss master, who has slipped to third in the world rankings, meets number two Novak Djokovic later on Saturday.
In the first semi-final, it was a stunningly complete performance by the 23-year-old Scot, who refused to be pushed around by the muscular Spaniard and in the end walked off with his fourth win in 12 meetings - all coming on hardcourts.
”It’s the surface I feel most comfortable on,“ Murray told reporters. ”I move better on hardcourt than on other surfaces.
“There are certain things the surface allows me to do against him that I can’t do on the others. I’ve always played my best tennis on the hardcourt.”
Playing his first event since his Wimbledon victory, Nadal had been slow to get into a rhythm in every match the entire week and the semi-final was no different with Murray taking the only break in the first set.
Murray continued to pressure Nadal in the second, with an early break to nose ahead 2-1 until the Spaniard broke back to level at 3-3, celebrating with a huge fist pump and a ferocious scream.
Murray, however, would not be intimidated, responding with the decisive break in the ninth game.
Faced with triple-break point, a battling Nadal saved two but could not save the third blasting a return into the net to end a long rally and leave the Scot serving for the match at 5-4.
“You can never expect to beat the best players in the world but if I play my best tennis like I did today I have a very good chance against all of them,” said Murray.
“I understand if I go on the court against them I have to play great tennis to beat them.”
Murray has been in impressive form on the North American hardcourts, also making the Los Angeles final, offering hope that he might make his long awaited grand slam breakthrough later this month at the U.S. Open.
The Scot has come close to ending Britain’s long wait for a men’s grand slam singles champion, though he lost to Federer in the 2008 U.S. Open final and in the Australian Open final this year.
Editing by Ed Osmond/Greg Stutchbury