ANDY Murray made a statement for the 2015 season by easily defeating Rafael Nadal to reach the final at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi.
Although the grandly-titled Mubadala World Tennis Championship carries no ranking points, both men were fully committed and Murray showed he is in fine shape physically and mentally with a 6-2, 6-0 victory.
The 2013 Wimbledon champion struggled past Nadal’s countryman Feliciano Lopez in the first round on Thursday but looked sharp from the start as he showed off the impact of his winter training camp in Miami.
Nadal, by contrast, was clearly rusty in his first match since the appendectomy that brought an early end to his 2014 season two months ago.
It is the first time Murray has beaten one of his ‘big-four’ rivals since defeating Novak Djokovic in the final of Wimbledon a year and a half ago.
Murray finished his 2014 season by winning just a single game against Roger Federer at the ATP World Tour Finals in London and looked both ill at ease with his game and short on confidence.
He lost two members of his coaching team – long-time allies and friends Dani Vallverdu and Jez Green – ahead of the new season but two weeks working with coach Amelie Mauresmo in Florida appears to have ironed out many of the creases.
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Criticised for being too passive during a shaky 2014, Murray took the game to Nadal from the start and broke the world number three’s serve at the first opportunity.
He then saved three break points and cemented his advantage by breaking again to take the set. It was a tale of two backhands, with Murray’s working beautifully while Nadal’s was something of a liability.
A double fault gave sixth-ranked Murray another break at the start of the second set and, in a repeat of the start of the match, he withstood pressure to hold onto his lead.
This time the Scot saved five break points, the third with a brilliant running forehand winner.
Murray was making the right decisions at the big moments and, although Nadal continued to press hard, he could not prevent his opponent wrapping up a love set and a hugely impressive performance.
Speaking on Eurosport, Murray said: “It was a very tough match. There were many long games. It shouldn’t have been that scoreline. I just managed to win the important points. It was a good match. You never know how you’re going to feel until you get on the match court. I’m pleased. Today was an improvement from yesterday and hopefully tomorrow will be better as well. I’m pleased all the hard work is paying off.”
In today’s final, Murray will play world No 1 Djokovic, who was equally impressive in hammering Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka 6-1, 6-2.
Djokovic was playing his first match of the season but barely put a foot wrong, winning nine consecutive games from 1-1 in the opening set against a dejected-looking Wawrinka.
The Swiss at least avoided a love set but a fightback proved beyond him as defending champion Djokovic eased to victory.
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