Spectre of Perry remains as clinical Nadal torments Murray

IF you wanted to be cynical you could say it was David Beckham's second setback in a week.

Fresh from watching England ejected from the World Cup he was in the Centre Court crowd last night to see Andy Murray's Wimbledon hopes turn to ashes for another year.

"Come on Andy, you can do it for Beckham," some wag called out as he plummeted to a 6-4 7-6 6-4 defeat by Rafael Nadal.

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But in fact the Scot merely emphasised once again how far he has to go before emulating the deeds of Fred Perry whose third successive title in 1936 continues to haunt British tennis.

A year ago it was Andy Roddick who destroyed Murray's dream in four spirited sets. Nadal's victory was far more clinical, as befits the world No 1.

Murray performed with credit in an absorbing contest, but even his most ardent supporters had to admit that he was beaten by a more complete player.

Nadal's early struggles in the tournament and his vulnerable knees became an irrelevance as he displayed his mastery of how to win critical points. At 4-4 in the first set he pounced to break serve in a game where Murray delivered two aces. He then held serve and suddenly the set was over.

First blow to the Majorcan and the expectant buzz which had filled the arena took on a note of anxiety. Nadal stirred British hopes when he had to survive his first break points in the seventh game of the second set and Murray stayed with him all the way to the tie break.

Then fate intervened and it was not on the side of Murray. His set point at 6-5 was saved by a magical backhand volley and on the next point he was beaten by a wicked backhand which hit the net cord on its way. Nadal wrapped the set up on the next point and Murray tossed his racket in despair.

When was Murray going to catch fire? He was serving well, reading Nadal's deliveries excellently and playing a stalwart role in the baseline rallies, matching the 2008 champion shot for shot. He even broke serve to forge a 4-2 lead in the third set. And yet there was something muted in his demeanour. You found yourself waiting for the break back and it duly arrived in the eighth game. He double-faulted to put Nadal at break point and then netted a forehand from a cagey return. That made it 4-4, and two games later it was all over when he drove a forehand over the baseline on match point.

This was a not dire performance by Murray. It just showed how far he has to go on the Wimbledon stage before he can threaten the likes of Nadal.

Murray said that in terms of chances there was a difference of maybe five or six points between himself and his conqueror. This could be true but of course it is when the points were won in the context of the match that mattered. Nadal had the technical and mental ability to turn the screw when it counted. Murray was outsmarted and outplayed, and, to be fair had no complaints later.

"Rafa just played better than me but I'm disappointed because I had chances," he said. "It's not like I played badly. He played great and that was the difference. He's my favourite player to watch. I hope he goes on to win the title."

Nadal was equally complimentary: "It was one of the more difficult victories of my career because my opponent was playing well and I needed to play my best tennis to win. I wished him the best of luck for the rest of the season and sorry for today.

"I am sure he's going to win a grand slam soon because when you have reached the final in the US Open, the final in Australia and two semi-finals here, well one day you will win. I am sure of that."

Tomas Berdych is Nadal's opponent in tomorrow's final and if yesterday's magisterial mood is anything to go by, the Majorcan will make formidable opposition.