ATP Monte Carlo: Rafael Nadal wins three set thriller over Andy Murray

Rafael Nadal met Andy Murray for the 23rd time of their careers in the semifinal of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters. The match lasted two hours and 43 minutes with Nadal outlasting his British adversary, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2. While Murray was able to come in with some momentum after routing Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals, beating Nadal consecutive times on clay proved to be too much.

Murray Asserts Dominance Early

Through the first five games, points were earned through long rallies with the server holding each time. Down 2-3, Nadal faced a scorching Murray who could do no wrong; three forehands into the net by the Spaniard gave the Brit a 0-40 lead and three break points. The lefty was the beneficiary of a backhand error on his opponent's part; that luck only lasted one point as Nadal hit a forehand long to give Murray the break and a 4-2 lead. In the next game, the world number five found himself up 30-40 with a break chance looming.

The world number two extinguished that chance with a quick ace. Nadal saw one more break point chance, but couldn't capitalize as Murray won the point--taking with him a 5-2 lead. After a wonderfully-timed drop shot gave the Spaniard momentum, another deuce was eminent. The Brit closed out the set, 6-2, with drop shot of his own and a Nadal forehand into the net.

Andy Murray of Great Britain stretches to return during his semi-final match against Rafael Nadal of Spain during the semi final match on day seven of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters at Monte-Carlo Sporting Club on April 16, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco
Andy Murray of Great Britain stretches to return during his semi-final match against Rafael Nadal of Spain during the semi final match on day seven of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters at Monte-Carlo Sporting Club on April 16, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Although Murray's groundstrokes were near-flawless, a glaring discrepancy in first serve percentage foreshadowed a tough road ahead for the second seed.

Nadal Responds Early And Late

Wasting no time after losing the first set, Nadal broke Murray's serve at 15 to take a 1-0 lead. In true. At 30-30 in the second game, a double-fault gave the Brit a chance to break back; he couldn't convert, but two more tries were enough to catch the break back, and Murray was back on track. Nadal finally got his first ace of the match in the fourth game after both players held cleanly. With the score knotted up at two games apiece, a 21-shot rally ended with a beautiful drop shot-to-pass combo by Murray. That awesome point was one of many in a match that looked to be an instant classic. The next two games concluded without a deuce or break--bringing the set score to 3-3.

Breaking serve for the second time, Nadal took a 4-3 lead. The next game looked like deja vu of the second--with Murray jumping out to a 15-40 lead. The Spaniard clawed back to even the score deuce and it would be a long time before the Brit saw another break point. A Nadal hold took the wind out of Murray's sails as he trailed, 3-5. After four deuces without a break point given, Murray held to bring the score to within one, but he couldn't win another point for the rest of the set; Nadal held at love to win the game and the second set. The aforementioned first serve percentage differential grew larger as the Brit only got 39 percent of them in; in contrast, the Spaniard found the service box on 74 percent.

Nadal Gets Better of Frustrated Murray

The first two sets were very back-and-forth between two fierce competitors; the third set was anything but. Murray lost the first three points on two errors followed by a Nadal cross-court forehand. Some promise was shown from the second seed as he battled back to deuce, but his effort wasn't enough. Nadal won the next six points to break Murray and hold at love, but that wouldn't be his largest run. The right-hander responded by holding at love himself, but another big run--this one lasting ten points--gave Nadal another love hold, a break at love, and a 30-0 lead up, 4-1. The push was ended by a forehand by the lefty that missed the court so badly that it began to write an " I miss you" letter. The next two points went in favor of the fifth seed, things looked bleak for the Brit--trailing, 1-5. He was able to hold at 30 to bring the deficit to 2-5, and things finally got interesting again.

Rafael Nadal of Spain questions a linesman over a ball called out during his semi-final match against Andy Murray of Great Britain during the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters at Monte-Carlo Sporting Club on April 16, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

The final game looked all-but-over; the 29-year-old was leading 40-15 with two looks at match points ahead. Two forehand errors erased that lead for the first deuce since the first game of the set. After two more match points didn't go his way, the Spaniard found himself facing a break point of his own. The Brit wasn't going down without a fight; unfortunately, his next forehand couldn't catch the line and the game entered a fourth deuce. An overhead smash gave the 28-year-old once last hope, but by losing the next three points, he also lost the match. Nadal won his fifth match point to advance to the final.

With a, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, victory, Nadal defeated Murray for the 17th time. He will now move on to face a Frenchman in the final of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters; the opposition will be Gael Monfils, whom he has only lost to twice. That match will take place Sunday on Court Rainier III.

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