Murray defeated in straight sets by Nadal
Fred Perry's status as Britain's last men's singles winner at Wimbledon will go into a 75th year after Andy Murray's 6-4 7-6 (8/6) 6-4 defeat by Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals this evening.
Hopes were high the fourth seed could end the long wait for a home champion but he found the world number one in top form and the writing was on the wall when Nadal took the tightest of tie-breaks in the second set.
Murray broke early in the third set to give a tense Centre Court crowd hope but Nadal hit back to level before reeling off his fourth successive game to claim victory.
The Spaniard, who was unable to defend his title last year because of injury, slumped to the turf in celebration, while for Murray there were tears of despair as another grand slam opportunity slipped away.
Nadal, who will face Tomas Berdych in the final, paid tribute to his opponent, saying: "It was a very, very good match for me, to beat Andy you have to play your best tennis."
There was a real sense of anticipation inside a packed Centre Court, where a crowd which included David Beckham let out a huge cheer when Murray won the first point of the match.
It was initially as tight as had been predicted, with neither player willing to give an inch. The fourth seed's serve was holding up well while Nadal looked fit and in something approaching top form.
The crucial moment of the opening set came in the ninth game, and it was Murray who cracked first.
The 23-year-old had served two aces down the middle and chose to go there again at 30-30 but this time Nadal read it and, having put Murray in trouble with the return, powered away a winner. He then took the break point when his opponent hit a forehand just wide.
Nadal promptly took a 40-0 lead when serving for the set and, although Murray retrieved two points, the world number one clinched it thanks to another error from the Scot's racquet.
Murray pushed hard for a break at the start of the second set but it just would not come.
The world number four was playing an intelligent match, engaging Nadal in a chess-like battle of minds, but too often what should have been the killer shot instead produced an error.
The crowd willed their man on but he had reason to curse one spectator when a chance did finally arrive at 15-40 in the eighth game.
A mobile phone ring was followed by a netted return on the first break point, while on the second his length dropped too short and Nadal made him pay in the manner to which his rivals have become so accustomed.
A second-set tie-break had been crucial in Murray's quarter-final win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the Scot edging it to level the match, and that was his task again, for a two-set deficit would surely be too much.
A return winner gave Murray the first mini-break but that was quickly cancelled out by a netted forehand. Successive aces took the 23-year-old 5-4 ahead and he was gifted a set point on his own serve as Nadal double-faulted.
The Spaniard made up for that uncharacteristic error, though, defying a deafening roar from the crowd by seizing on a second serve and then winning the point with a superb volley.
And luck was on his side, too, a net cord beating Murray to give Nadal a set point of his own. And this time it was decisive, as the fourth seed scrambled in vain to retrieve a forehand, giving the top seed the game and one foot in the final.
If the crowd's belief that Murray could win the match was wavering, it was vital the man himself did not entertain such thoughts, and he proved that in the best possible fashion by breaking Nadal to love in the opening game of the third set.
It almost seemed too easy after the travails of the second set but for once he did not give Nadal any free points and his big shots found their mark.
Murray initially held on to his advantage comfortably but he knew at some point the pressure would come from the world number one, and come it did in the eighth game.
The fourth seed withstood one break point thanks to a big serve but he missed his chance to take the game when he volleyed wide, and a double fault and netted forehand ensured he paid for it dearly.
Nadal sensed blood and sure enough a match point arrived in Murray's next service game, the belief finally seeming to have drained out of the home hope. And one was all he needed as Murray fired a drive volley long.
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