Hatton looks on as Andy Murray is a knockout
The record books will show that Andy Murray reached the Australian Open semi-finals after Rafael Nadal was forced to retire with a knee injury.
Ricky Hatton, a guest in Murray's box, might have wondered for a moment whether it was the umpire who had stopped the contest to save Nadal from further punishment.
When the world No 2 threw in the towel, having suffered a recurrence of his knee troubles at the end of the second set, he was trailing 6-3, 7-6, 3-0 after two and a half hours of the best tennis seen here this year.
Nadal said afterwards that the last time he had played as well was when he won the title on the same court 12 months ago, yet he had been outplayed on nearly all the crucial points as Murray gave his best display in a Grand Slam tournament since beating the Spaniard for the first time at the 2008 US Open.
That victory took Murray into his first — and so far only — Grand Slam final. On this form the 22-year-old Scot will be the favourite to play in his second this Sunday, although for the moment he will be looking no further than his semi-final against Croatia's Marin Cilic. The world No 14 beat Andy Roddick 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3 in his third five-set match of the fortnight to reach the last four of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time.
Murray, who has not yet dropped a set, has been on court for just over 10 hours en route to the semi-finals, more than eight and a half hours less than Cilic.
While Murray's brilliance as a counter-attacker and intuitive strategist has never been in doubt, this provided confirmation that he can also turn on the aggression to devastating effect. He played serve-and-volley, went for winners whenever the opportunity arose and neutralised Nadal's threat with the power and depth of his ground strokes.
Nevertheless it is impossible to keep the lid on the Nadal boiler for long and there were some stunning rallies as the two men bombarded each other with full-blooded shots.
When you see Nadal in full flight it is a source of great regret that his troublesome knees continue to cast doubts over his future. The 23-year-old Spaniard said that he felt a familiar pain in his right knee as he chased down a drop shot and soon decided that he would not make the same mistake as he had last year by playing on with the injury.
After the match the Spaniard was typically generous in his praise for Murray.
“I think he deserves to win his first Grand Slam,” Nadal said. “Today was an amazing match in the first two sets. I think we both played really well and I had my chances, but he served unbelievably well when he was at 30-30 or 0-30 or on the break points.
“I'd like to congratulate him because he's doing really well. I think he has a big chance of winning this tournament.”
This had been billed as the match of the tournament so far and it lived up to expectations.
Murray went for his shots if Nadal hit short and frequently played serve-and-volley, particularly when the Spaniard was hitting backhand returns. Three of the first four break points that
Murray saved came after he followed his serve into the net.
Nadal made the first break in both completed sets, only for Murray to hit back immediately. From 2-1 down Murray won four games in a row, saved three break points when serving at 5-3 and took the first set in 52 minutes.
After the first five games of the second set the match, bizarrely, was held up for nine minutes for an Australia Day fireworks display in the centre of the city less than a mile away. Murray dropped his serve upon the resumption, but broke back immediately with some typically attacking play.
Nadal saved four break points at 5-6, but Murray dominated the tie-break, which he won 7-2. Nadal took a medical time-out for treatment in the second game of the third set and one game later decided he could not continue.
“I'm obviously disappointed that the match couldn't have finished as I would have liked, but given the position I was in I feel like I would have had a chance of going on to finish the match,” Murray said. “I thought I dictated what happened on the court. I played really well and deserved to be up when the match was stopped.”