By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal delivered another command performance to withstand an early assault from a fired-up Andy Murray and beat the home favorite 5-7 6-2 6-2 6-4 in the Wimbledon semi-finals on Friday.
The top seed and defending champion will play Novak Djokovic in the final on Sunday after ending Murray's bid to become the first Briton to make the final in 75 years.
Fourth seed Murray played a brilliant first set to get the Center Court crowd buzzing but the Spaniard took it all in his stride and combining his remarkable big-match temperament and incredible consistency fought back for a fully-deserved victory.
The victory continued the remarkable Wimbledon run of the Spaniard, whose last defeat in the tournament came in the 2007 final against Roger Federer. Nadal won it in 2008, missed 2009 through injury but came back to triumph again last year after also beating Murray in the semis.
"It's a dream to be back in the final," Nadal said in a televised interview. "I feel sad for Andy. I think he deserved to be in the final. I wish him all the best for the rest of the year and the U.S. Open.
"I played very well to win against Andy. I need to play my best tennis. He's a great champion. To beat him the only way is to play really great shots. I did that today."
Everyone with an opinion had been telling Murray that he had to be more aggressive and the advice looked to have got through as he came out for his third successive Wimbledon semi-final and third grand slam semi of the year full of attacking intent.
He opened up with a powerful service game, sending down two aces and immediately lifting the decibel count in the packed Center Court.
Nadal was also solid, however, and the first deuce of the match did not arrive until the 11th game on the Murray serve.
Murray looked completely focused and there were none of the desperate pleading looks toward his family or the berating of himself after an error that all-too often upset his equilibrium.
It was tight again in the early stages of the second set but the match seemed to turn in the fourth game. Nadal was struggling at 15-30 and 2-1 down when the pumped-up Briton sent an easy forehand long.
Instead of pressuring for the break, Murray went on to lose the game, sparking a run of seven successive games for the Spaniard that won him the second set and gave him the early initiative in the third.
"He had an important mistake, easy forehand, that was probably one of the turning points of the match," Nadal said.
Despite sending five rackets out to be restrung, Nadal maintained his relentless forehand assault while Murray's radar was faulty and another break and superb serving enabled Nadal to sweep through for a 2-1 lead.
Murray needed to rediscover his early fire but he was ragged again in the first game of the fourth set when an inconclusive volley allowed Nadal to send a backhand pass screaming under his nose on the way to another early break.
Murray never looked capable of stopping the flow as Nadal, who also beat him in the French Open semi-finals this year, cranked up the pressure with his relentless accuracy and variety of shot.
Nadal, showing no signs of the foot injury that had dogged him earlier in the week, continued to tighten the screw and broke immediately in the fourth set with another stunning pass.
Murray saw a chink of light when he earned a rare break points in the fourth game. The crowd sensed the importance of the moment and urged him on but Nadal, as ever, dealt with the pressure wonderfully to see off the danger.
Murray tried desperately to rediscover the shots that peppered the lines in the first set but his error count grew as Nadal tightened the noose.
Murray was unable to threaten again and the left-handed champion won the match when he crashed a trademark forehand down the line on his second match point.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)