Slick Murray piles pressure on Nadal

British No 1 gets off to a flying start before bad weather closes in but Federer wastes no time in dispatching Djokovic
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The Independent Online

Nobody in tennis is better than Andy Murray at playing a patient game, but the 21-year-old Scot had to endure the most agonising wait of his life last night. Playing the first Grand Slam semi-final of his career, he was leading Rafael Nadal, the world No 1, 6-2 7-6 2-3 here at the US Open when the tropical storm that had been threatening to bring a premature end to proceedings finally arrived.

Within 10 minutes torrential rain was falling and within 40 minutes play for the day was abandoned. Murray and Nadal will resume at 4pm (9pm BST) today and the final has been rescheduled for 5pm (10pm BST) tomorrow. The women's final between Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic will be at 9pm tonight (2am BST tomorrow).

When the players left the court shortly before 3pm, Nadal looked much the happier and turned to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd. Although the Spaniard was a break up in the third set, he had been comprehensively outplayed and must have welcomed the chance to regroup and rethink his game plan.

Murray looked less than amused. If he were to lose this match he would have every reason to feel aggrieved with the tournament organisers and CBS, who pay $35m (nearly £20m) a year for the television rights and have a major say in the order of play. The rain had been forecast, yet no move was made to start both semi-finals at the same time on different courts.

Nadal and Murray were due to follow Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in Arthur Ashe Stadium in a session beginning at 11am. Their semi-final was finally switched to Louis Armstrong Stadium, the second show court, but did not start until 12.37.

Federer had time to complete a 6-3 5-7 7-5 6-2 victory over Djokovic in two hours and 45 minutes, but Murray and Nadal had just two hours on court. Jim Curley, the tournament director, said he had expected to have playable weather for another two hours. To add to Murray's potential displeasure, the remainder of the match will be played in Arthur Ashe Stadium, while the mid-afternoon start ensures that the winner will have significantly less time to prepare for the final than Federer.

It is to be hoped that Murray stays in a positive frame of mind after his outstanding performance in the first two sets. The British No 1 had lost all five of his previous matches against Nadal and had not won a set in the last four, but on this occasion he dominated from the start.

He played a typically clever game, teasing mistakes out of his opponent as Nadal struggled to cope with the Scot's changes of pace. Gently sliced backhands were followed by ground strokes hammered cross-court or down the line, with Murray's backhand, driven two-handed with formidable racket-head speed, a particularly potent weapon.

Nadal looked physically weary and mentally stale, finally paying the price, perhaps, for the demands of a summer in which he has become world No 1 and won the French Open and Wimbledon titles and Olympic gold.

Murray could hardly have played the first set more convincingly. Looking confident from the start, he put Nadal under constant pressure but played a waiting game, forcing the Spaniard into errors or manoeuvring him into a situation where he could go for a winner.

Having broken in the third game thanks largely to Nadal's mistakes, Murray did so again four games later through his own aggression. At 40-30, Nadal was surprised by Murray's sudden acceleration of pace on the backhand. A big forehand winner down the line created break point after which the Scot chased down a tired volley to hit a forehand winner down the line. Murray served out for the set, coming in behind a second serve to force Nadal into netting his backhand return on the final point.

Murray had chances to break early in the second set and was rarely troubled on his own serve as it went to a tie-break, in which he was a mini-break up at 3-2 but then served a double fault. Thereafter it went with serve until Nadal, serving at 5-6, carelessly put a cross-court backhand wide.

Nadal converted his first break point in the opening game of the third set when Murray put a half-volley long. Murray trailed 0-30 in what proved to be the final game of the day but responded admirably, holding serve with two successive aces.

In the other semi-final, there was no doubt who the crowd wanted to win, Djokovic having alienated the New York public with his criticisms of Andy Roddick following their quarter-final 48 hours earlier.

Federer (left) is hugely popular here and will now try to become the first player since Bill Tilden in 1924 to win the title five times in a row. It would also be huge consolation after what has been a comparatively disappointing year for the 27-year-old Swiss, who has lost his Australian Open and Wimbledon crowns and his world No 1 ranking. Djokovic, who lost to Federer in the final here 12 months ago but beat him on the way to his first Grand Slam title in Melbourne in January, would have replaced him as worldNo 2 had he won the title here, but was outplayed.

For periods Federer looked back to his absolute best. Serving beautifully, the Swiss found his rhythm immediately and won the first set in just 24 minutes, with Djokovic winning only four points against serve.

A loose service game at 5-6 cost Federer the second set but he was soon back on track, making the vital break in the third set at 5-5 and quickly taking command of the fourth. He secured victory in emphatic style, thumping a big inside-out forehand winner down the line and celebrating with a leap into the air and a roar of delight.

If Murray reaches the final he could hardly face a stiffer challenge, but the Scot is one of the few players in the game with a positive head-to-head record against Federer, having won two of their three meetings. For the moment, however, his only focus will be on beating Nadal.

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