By Martyn Herman
Rafa Nadal cut world number two Andy Murray down to size with an impressive 6-4 6-1 victory at the ATP World Tour Finals on Wednesday which provided further evidence of the Spaniard’s return to his former powers.
A distracted Murray, who bizarrely clipped his fringe with a pair of scissors during one changeover early on, capitulated, but only after Nadal had softened him up with the kind of ferocious hitting that earned him 14 grand slam titles.
Ripping forehands to all corners of the court and moving smoothly, the 29-year-old dominated throughout and is all but sure of a place in the semi-finals of the tournament.
With an unblemished record in Ilie Nastase Group, having beaten world number four Stanislas Wawrinka equally comfortably on Monday, Nadal will move through as long David Ferrer does not beat Wawrinka in straight sets in the evening session.
It continues a renaissance for the former world number one, who failed to win a grand slam title this year for the first time since 2004 and who slumped to 10th in the rankings in June before climbing back to five.
“For me to be able to play at that level against such a great player is good news,” Nadal told reporters. “Happy for that. I just want to try to keep working the same way to keep confirming that I am in the completely right direction.”
For British world number two Murray, his thoughts may already be drifting towards next week’s Davis Cup final against Belgium in Ghent, although victory over Wawrinka on Friday would probably earn him a place in the semi-finals.
“I think he was hitting the ball extremely well today from the back of the court,” Murray told reporters.
“From the middle till the end of the second set he played extremely well. But I didn’t really help myself. I served poorly at the end of the first set and all through the second.”
Murray won only 10 per cent of points on his second serve in the second set, and a nine-point losing streak virtually sealed his fate and left him waiting for a first win over Nadal in London, having lost three times to him at Wimbledon and once before at the O2 Arena in 2010.
He became slightly irritated when asked about his mid-match haircut, saying: “I don’t know why such minor things make such a big deal to you guys.
“I had some hair in my eye, and I just wanted to get rid of it. That literally took two seconds.”
The 28-year-old had looked focused enough at the start of the match, breaking serve in the opening game, only to drop his own serve immediately as Nadal worked the angles.
Trailing 2-3, Murray did well to fend off three break points, and he found himself 15-40 down again two games later, when Nadal again failed to convert.
Nadal creamed a forehand winner to bring up three set points at 4-5 and needed just one as he ran Murray ragged before winning the point with a deft volley.
An awful service game from Murray allowed Nadal a quick break in the second set and the Mallorcan needed no second invitation to stomp towards victory.