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Nadal wins a thriller

Nandita Sridhar

Sets up title clash wih Mikhail Youzhny

— Photo: R. Ragu

FIERY INTENSITY: It was by sheer force of will that the top-seeded Rafael Nadal won this one, against his good friend Carlos Moya.

Chennai: Carlos Moya played his best tennis in recent times, and pushed Rafael Nadal to his limit; but Nadal was as stubborn as a champion could get. Refusing to let go, even when on the brink of defeat, he saved four match-points in the second set to beat Moya 6-7(3), 7-6(8), 7-6(1), in the semifinals of the Chennai Open ATP tennis championship at the Nungambakkam Stadium on Saturday.

Each shot was played in a relentless pursuit of excellence. The rallies unfolded with the same intensity through the course of three closely fought sets. Winning each point was like winning a psychological war.

The tennis was intense, and of the highest quality witnessed so far in the tournament.

Moya scurried to the net, ran like a manic sprinter, and made Nadal do the same. The two-time Chennai Open champion made the three-time Roland Garros champion battle. There were no cheap points.

The top-seed had a set point in the first set when up 40-30, with Moya serving. Moya responded with a whiplash forehand to make it deuce. After the set was denied at that stage, Nadal had no chances in the tie-break. Moya was just too strong, too aggressive and ran too hard.

Beating Nadal doesn’t require style; it demands attack, shortening points and flat hitting. The third seed played like one should against Nadal for most of two sets.

Trading breaks

The second set saw an exchange of breaks, which ushered in another tie-break. Moya leapfrogged to a 4-0 lead. Up 5-3, Moya’s brilliant serve was near impossible to return. Nadal managed to save a match-point with a superb cross-court backhand. He saved another when Moya missed an easy forehand by an inch. Nadal won the tie-break 10-8 through sheer force of will.

The final-set tie-break was a let-down, in the sense that Moya’s game suffered a collapse. Nadal ran away with a 5-0 lead, with Moya managing a sole point. Nadal grabbed the chance to close it out on his serve. Moya’s return flew out, and the top-seed was down on his knees. In its 13-year history in the country, the tournament might never have witnessed anything quite like this.

In the other semifinal, Russian Mikhail Youzhny beat Croatian Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-3.

The results: Singles (Semifinals): Mikhail Youzhny (Rus) bt Marin Cilic (Cro) 6-2, 6-3; Rafel Nadal (Esp) bt Carlos Moya (Esp) 6-7(3), 7-6(8), 7-6(1).

Quarterfinals: Rafael Nadal (Esp) bt Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-3, 6-2; Youzhny bt Xavier Malisse (Bel) 6-4, 6-4; Cilic bt Robin Haase (Ned) 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

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