In a gruelling and intense Australian Open semi-final, Andy Murray finally found a way to put away a dogged David Ferrer 4-6 7-6 6-1 7-6 to reach his third grand slam final today.
Adidas might have dressed Murray as a goalie but, in the opening stages, there were few hints of the ragged defending that was to follow. Indeed, by the seventh game of the first set, Murray's heavier groundshots were starting to tell and he secured the break at 3-3 with some delicious width and admirable depth.
However, at 4-3, Murray's good work was undone by some scintillating all-court play from the 7th-ranked Spaniard that ended with a deft backhand volley to knot the scores at 4-4.
That seventh game had begun a passage of play from the Scot that created the illusion of aggressive tennis. True, Murray's groundshots were peppering the line. Unfortunately, it was the service line.Read more (771 words)
As the rallies lengthened, the smile on the face of Novak Djokovic, safely into the final and tucking into his popcorn back at the hotel, must have widened.Breaking down Murray's win (1 video)
Some horribly passive play from the number five seed and some smart net-rushing from Ferrer resulted in the Spaniard's second break of serve and an ugly 'Del Boy' face from Murray. Sometimes, High Definition can be just too well-defined.
At 4-5, Murray's first serve went missing, and more submissive play, punctuated bizarrely by a running forehand pass that brought the house down, ended with the Scot drifting a backhand wide to concede the first set.
Although he broke immediately at the start of the second set, Murray was getting sucked into the Spaniard's supreme backcourt game, honed so well on the dirt courts of Valencia, and Ferrer broke straight back.
True, Britain's number one was driving the ball, but completely failing to penetrate the Spaniard's defences.
Time and again during the second set, the Scot dug his way out of deep trouble with lights-out serving and some ghostly forays to the net. Sadly, he was also peppering his game with technique-free forehands and feeble backhands that kept the ballkids busy around the net.
For his part, Ferrer, who's no one's idea of a big server, was connecting with some telling deliveries that constantly put Murray on the back foot. This, coupled with the ferocious speed of the Spaniard, brought about a set point at 4-5.
As Murray tried to draw blood by attacking his fist with his racket, Nadal's conqueror seemed to scent it, but the Scot kicked away from the shark's teeth with a meaty first delivery. Murray later admitted he'd been completely unaware that he was set point down.
At 5-5, Murray found a drop shot and some probing backhands to take the Spaniard's serve. The banner waving in the crowd said 'Murraculous', but in truth the only miracle was how much Ferrer's game had dropped at such a vital stage.
At 5-6, Murray threw in a masterclass in subdued passivity, eventually conceding his serve with a backhand that drifted agonisingly wide.
The tiebreak proved pivotal. With the Spaniard somehow managing to be even more inert than Murray, the Scot raced to a 6-0 lead and took the breaker 7-2 with a handy wide backhand.
Back at the hotel, Djokovic beamed widely, called room service and ordered up his third helping of popcorn.
Fortunately for Murray, his tennis in the third set was less lightweight and sugary. Finally pulling the sword from the stone, he showed his fans what can happen when he unleashes the full range of his mercurial ability.
Driving the ball through the court, getting a read on the Ferrer serve and spreading the play wide bought the Scot a 6-1 set in double-quick time. But if fans back home thought this signalled a charge for the finish line, they were to be disappointed.
The fourth set began well, with Murray breaking immediately and stretching the Spaniard all over the court. Seemingly, the hairline crack that separated the two players early in the match had become a chasm.
But not for nothing is Ferrer known as The Terrier. An epic game at 2-0 proved the catalyst for a spectacular rearguard action that tested the boundaries of human resolve.
Amidst the gloom of this wholehearted Spanish resistance, though, Murray found some sparks of genius that enabled him to stay with Ferrer, notably a scorching forehand down the line on the 19th stroke of yet another gruelling rally to tie the scores at 3-3.
Ferrer, whose deft volleys showed that he's much more than a mere dirtballer, produced a superbly crafted example at 4-4 30-30, a stroke that was followed by a horrible choked forehand from Murray to concede the game.
As this match of salty sweat and meaty grunts ground on into the tiebreak, Djokovic will have yawned, spread himself more widely across his Egyptian cotton sheets and ordered a double helping of cheesecake.
For the Murray fans suffering back home, the breaker was as mercifully decisive as the earlier one, with Murray taking a 6-1 lead. With the Spaniard resembling a bull speared once too often, a neat half volley from the Scot delivered the coup de grace after three hours and 45 minutes of punishing tennis.
Having dispatched David, Murray will hope the Goliath who awaits in Sunday's final will have consumed far too much popcorn for his own good. Meanwhile, his fans will be praying for a less edgy, error-strewn performance as he once again attempts to become Britain's first male grand-slam winner since Fred Perry in 1936.