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Three thoughts on men's semifinals

WIMBLEDON, England -- Three thoughts after the men's semifinals at the All England Club on Friday:

Rafael Nadal doesn't beat opponents, he breaks them. For all that's made of his strokes -- the lefty zings, the array of spins, the laser returns -- the mental effects of his game are singularly well-suited for success. Nadal demoralized Andy Murray with his impenetrable defense, his scrambling, his "body shots" and his stubborn refusal to play anything but his best on the biggest points. Down set point in the second set tiebreaker, Nadal knocked off a delicate volley. Then he flung a passing shot that clipped the net to win the next point and then closed it out with some thunderous, angled slugging. In the span of say, 90 seconds, the entire matched changed.

"I would guess it was a difference of maybe five or six points in the match," Murray said with a sigh after Nadal's 6-4, 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory. "He just played better than me."

As if the rest of the field needed to be further dispirited, Nadal has become a terrific grass-court player, volleying with aplomb, skidding the ball off the worn backcourt and gliding around. Remember, too, that he missed last year's Wimbledon, so the 2008 champion has now won 13 straight matches here. Just a command performance Friday.

Poor Andy Murray. With England still in the World Cup, Murray was able to sneak through Week 1 with little fanfare, finding the game that had deserted him since the Australian Open. But once England faltered in the knockout round against Germany, it was back to Murray Mania. In the face of huge pressure and expectation, Murray played well -- just not well enough to beat the best player in tennis right now.

Until like last year's semifinal loss, Murray can't be too disappointed. He served well, moved well and engaged Nadal in some of the most creative, clever rallies you'll ever see on a tennis court. He simply lost to the better player. Whether the tabloids and blokes on the telly and other generators of hype get this, well, that's another matter.

Tomas Berdych is for real. Two days after blasting Roger Federer off the court, Berdych backed it up with a 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3 victory against Novak Djokovic. He'll be the underdog to make it three big wins in a row on Sunday, but if he clubs serves and forehands the way he did Friday, he has a real chance. This is a breakthrough period for a guy who spent the better part of the last six years known for his abundance of talent and deficit of guts.

Djokovic came up with another strangely empty performance in a big match -- double-faulting to give Berdych the second-set tiebreaker and again to fall behind 3-5 in the third, along with playing defensively when he had no reason to -- but a stronger effort might not have mattered much, as Berdych simply hit through him.

"I was kind of waiting for him to make a mistake," Djokovic said. "I was wrong."

The conventional wisdom says Berdych will finally come down, playing in his first major final. Then again, what exactly about this tournament has been conventional?

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