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(January 26, 2010) A hobbled Rafael Nadal saw his reign came to a close and Andy Murray rolled into the Australian Open semifinal for the first time.

Nadal's hopes of defending his Australian Open title ended when a right knee injury forced him to pull the plug on the highly-anticipated quarterfinal clash with Murray.

The fifth-seeded Scot held a 6-3, 7-6(2), 3-0 lead when Nadal retired citing a right knee injury. Tendinitis in Nadal's right knee sidelined him for two months last summer, preventing him from defending his Wimbledon crown.

"I've known Rafa since I was 13 or 14 and he is somebody I have always looked up to," Murray said.  "He is my favorite player to watch because of his energy and I am gutted for him. I came through a few difficult moments at the start of the match but I played well and I got my tactics right."


Photo Credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Continuing his quest for his first career Grand Slam crown, Murray has not surrendered a set in five matches to become the first British man to reach the final four since John Lloyd made the final in 1977.

Next up for the 22-year-old Murray is a semifinal match with Marin Cilic, which is a rematch of the US Open fourth round last September that saw Cilic crush Murray, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 — his lone win over Murray in four meetings.

The 14th-seeded Croatian staved off a rally from Andy Roddick, who was pained by knee and shoulder injuries, to advance to his first career Grand Slam semifinal with a 7-6(4), 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6- victory. Cilic saved 10 of the 16 break points he faced, including all three break points in the final set.

They are two of the quickest men off the mark in tennis and Murray and Nadal engaged in some high-quality exchanges that explored all areas of the court.

Nadal drew first blood, capping a long rally by blasting a backhand winner down the line to break in the third game. Undaunted, Murray broke back immediately, leaning low to lift a tantalizing topspin backhand lob and put the opening set back on serve

Murray, who fought off seven of eight break points he faced in the first set, scored a second break for a 4-2 lead when he swept a two-handed backhand winner crosscourt.

Serving for the set at 5-3, Murray staved off break points and sealed the 52-minute opening set when Nadal pulled a backhand return beyond the baseline.

"Andy played really well I think. I think he's at unbelievable level, no?" Nadal said. "That may be with how I did too. I think my level was very high today, too. I had big chances. I had big chances to win both sets. And I think against probably the player who is playing better right now, I was very close."

It was a particularly painful loss to Nadal who not quite regained the full form and explosiveness he showed prior to suffering a right knee injury last season. But Nadal's fierce fighting spirit remains undiminished and he relied on that
— as well as some timely net play — to test Murray repeatedly in the first two sets.

The six-time Grand Slam champion said he's unsure of the severity of his injury and does not know how long it will keep him sidelined. Nadal played into December in helping Spain successfully defend its Davis Cup championship and had little turnaround time before resuming training for the Australian hard-court season.


Photo Credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

"It was an amazing match for the first two sets, we both played really well, I had my chances and his serve was unbelievable on my chances," Nadal said.

Last January, Nadal fought off Fernando Verdasco in an epic five-set semifinal then outdueled Roger Federer in a five-set final to capture his first major hard-court title and become the first man to hold three different majors — Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Australian Open — on three different surfaces simultaneously.

The second-seeded Spaniard's quarterfinal exit means more than the loss of his title. Nadal will lose the World No. 2 ranking to third-ranked Novak Djokovic, who could rise to the top spot if World No. 1 Roger Federer loses his quarterfinal to Nikolay Davydenko and Djokovic goes on to reclaim the Australian Open championship he won two years ago.

Nadal had won seven of his past nine meetings with Nadal, including a memorable five-set fight in the 2007 Australian Open round of 16 in which he battled back from a two sets to one deficit.

In the aftermath of today's retirement he said Murray is the man to beat in Melbourne.

"Well, I think for sure he has a big chance. I think is a very good chance for him," Nadal said. "First thing, he's playing really well. And second thing, he's already in semifinals. So is only two matches away. Every Grand Slam is special and every Grand Slam is important to win. For Andy, I think he deserve to win his first Grand Slam, and he gonna do it."

Photo Credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve


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