MONACO (AP) — Eight-time champion Rafael Nadal beat Andy Murray 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 to reach the Monte Carlo Masters final for the first time since 2013.
Murray had dominated on his serve — and pressured Nadal’s — throughout the first set, using his drop shot effectively. But Nadal broke Murray to start the second set, regaining momentum to defeat Murray for the third time in a semifinal here.
The Spaniard found his serving range in the deciding set, twice holding at love and eventually clinching victory on his fifth match point.
Nadal won the last of his eight straight titles in 2012, then lost the final to Novak Djokovic the following year.
He’ll face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Gael Monfils in the final.
Nadal has not won a tournament this year and the last of his 67 titles was on clay at Hamburg last August while his last final was in January, when he lost to Djokovic in Doha, Qatar.
This showed as he served for the match — with a full 10 minutes between his first match point and his successful fifth.
He got the win after 2 hours, 44 minutes when Murray’s forehand swipe on the run failed to clear the net, improving to 17-6 in career meetings against Murray and 7-1 on clay.
Murray lost to Nadal in the semis here in 2009 and 2011 when the Spaniard was the undisputed world’s best on clay. But Nadal has since proven vulnerable, and the nine-time French Open champion relinquished his Roland Garros title last year to Stan Wawrinka.
Murray beat him for the first time on clay last year too, routing him 6-3, 6-2 in the final of the Madrid Masters.
No British player has reached the final in Monte Carlo since Welshman Mike Davies finished runner-up in 1960, and Murray looked well set to end that long barren run.
While Nadal was struggling on his serve, Murray hit an ace to move 2-1 up and then broke Nadal in the sixth game to lead 4-2 in the first set. A superb drop shot from Murray gave him set point and he clinched it when Nadal sent a forehand into the net.
The major turning point came when Nadal broke to lead 4-3 after Murray missed an easy smash at the net, allowing Nadal to pass him down the line.
Nadal then saved two break points in the next game to lead 5-3 as the players thrilled the crowd with some spectacular rallies in a long ninth game that Murray struggled to hold.
After Nadal served out the second set, during which Murray got only 39 percent of his first serves in, the Spaniard broke him again at the start of the third with an exquisite drop shot.
Trailing 3-1, Murray’s composure started to wilt in the sunshine as he remonstrated several times with the chair umpire.