MADRID (AP) Continuing to impress on clay ahead of the French Open, Andy Murray defeated Rafael Nadal 7-5, 6-4 on Saturday to reach his second straight Madrid Open final.
Murray fought off a strong challenge from Nadal, serving eight aces and saving 11 break points to win a rematch of last year's final at the Masters tournament.
Murray needs to successfully defend his title on Sunday to avoid losing the No. 2 ranking to Roger Federer. Top-ranked Novak Djokovic plays No. 6 Kei Nishikori in the other semifinal later Saturday.
Nadal had his chances but failed on the decisive points, falling short on his attempt to win a third consecutive title this season.
It was Nadal's first loss after 13 straight wins in 2016. The former No. 1 was trying to win his third consecutive title after triumphs in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Nadal also was looking to win a record 50th clay-court title in the Open era.
Murray defeated the Spaniard in straight sets in 2015 for his first Masters title on clay, but the fifth-ranked Nadal had beaten Murray in three sets last month in the semifinal of the Monte Carlo Masters.
It was Murray's seventh win in the last eight matches on clay, the surface he struggled on the most early in his career. He had lost four of the last five matches against Nadal.
Nadal had the support of the home crowd but couldn't capitalize on his numerous chances in a match that lasted 2 hours, 11 minutes.
Murray came up with big serves when he needed them the most to keep Nadal from mounting a comeback.
Nadal had nine break points in the second set alone, converting only one. Nadal rallied from 5-2 down in the first set but lost four straight points while serving at 6-5 down, giving Murray the first set which lasted more than an hour.
Nadal trailed again in the second set and finally got back on serve after saving a match point when Murray served for the match at 5-3.