'It was one of the more difficult victories of my career'
Rafael Nadal torched Andy Murray's Wimbledon dream for the second time in three years on Friday as the marauding Spaniard grounded rising British hopes to roar into his fourth final at the grand slam.
For all but a few minutes of a compelling two hour 22 minute Centre Court duel there was not a cigarette paper between the players but Nadal gobbled up the rare opportunities Murray offered to win 6-4, 7-6, 6-4 and move into Sunday's showpiece against Czech Tomas Berdych who overpowered Novak Djokovic.
The 24-year-old Mallorcan has now won 13 consecutive matches at Wimbledon and is three sets from regaining the title he won in 2008 before injury kept him away last year.
"I never like comparisons," French open champion Nadal, said when asked if he was playing as well now as when he beat Roger Federer here two years ago in one of the best finals ever seen.
"Every year is completely different but for me this was an amazing day, a very important victory for me, one of the more difficult victories of my career."
Image: Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Britain's Andy Murray
'I felt sorry for him because he's a very nice person'
Earlier in the tournament Murray played regally to entertain Queen Elizabeth but with David Beckham, England's former soccer prince, watching on, he fell just short of becoming Britain's first men's singles finalist since 1938.
As he swished a forehand volley beyond the dusty baseline on Nadal's first match point, the groan from the masses perched on Henman Hill peering at the large screen were probably audible all the way across to Buckingham Palace.
Little blame could be attached to Murray, though, who had carried home hopes on his own since the first Tuesday by which time every other British player had gone out in the first round.
Even 2008 champion Nadal, one of the fiercest fighters the game has witnessed, seemed to feel the pain. "I wished him best of luck for the rest of the season, and sorry for today," Nadal said of his net exchange with a crestfallen Murray.
"I know it was an important match for him. I felt sorry for him because he's a very nice person."
Image: Britain's Andy Murray reacts after losing the match
'This is a little bit more disappointing than other slams'
That would be scant consolation for Murray who again just failed when it mattered. The Scot began the year losing to Roger Federer in the Australian Open final, as he did in the 2008 U.S. Open final just a few months after being outplayed by Nadal in the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
Last year here it was an inspired Andy Roddick who ambushed him in the semis and the defeats get ever more painful.
"This is a little bit more disappointing than other grand slams because this one is the biggest one of the year for me. It's tough," a despondent Murray told a news conference minutes after walking off court.
"I haven't seen the stats, but I would guess it was the difference of maybe five or six points in the match."
Actually it was seven, which illustrated just how tightly contested the match had been.
Only when Nadal broke back to level the third set at 4-4 did fourth seed Murray's resistance finally crack and two games later the Spaniard was flat on his back in celebration.
Beckham's arrival added to the huge sense of anticipation as the players walked out on court for their 11th career meeting and fifth in grand slam play.
Image: Andy Murray's girlfriend, Kim Sears arrives on Centre Court to watch the match
Murray started brightly in the third set
Two years ago Murray was thrashed by Nadal but his performances here this time, together with a few dropped sets for Nadal and Roger Federer's exit, elevated hopes to fever-pitch proportions.
One poor game at 4-4 cost Murray the first set when a double fault and a fluffed forehand had the 23-year-old beating his fist into his arm in frustration.
Murray was the cleaner hitter in the second set and dropped just two points on his serve before the tiebreak on which the match was to hinge.
He had missed two break points when Nadal served at 3-4 in the set but as the tension became suffocating in the tiebreak he was gifted a set point when Nadal double-faulted at 5-5.
The Spaniard's nerve was armour-plated as he produced a stunning drop volley to level at 6-6. He then got lucky when a fizzing backhand pass flicked off the net and jumped over Murray's racket frame.
Nadal clinched the set with a pummelling forehand winner and Murray bounced his racket angrily into the turf.
There seemed hope when Murray started brightly in the third set, breaking Nadal to love to the delight of the partisan crowd but their joy did not last long as Nadal broke back in the eighth game and broke again to seal victory.
Image: Rafael Nadal's girlfriend Maria Francisca Perello watches the match
'The feeling is amazing'
Big-hitting Tomas Berdych saw off a frustrated Novak Djokovic 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 on Friday to become the first Czech to reach the men's final at Wimbledon since Ivan Lendl in 1987.
The 12th seed reached his first grand slam final with a murderous display of hitting from the back of the court against the third seed, who showed his frustrations with a code violation during a defeat marked by two costly double faults.
"The feeling is amazing, to reach another victory over another great player, Novak Djokovic, in straight sets, it's amazing," the 24-year-old, who beat Roger Federer in the quarter-finals, told a courtside interviewer.
"I think (for) every young kid who first time hits the ball, this is the dream to be in the final of any grand slam. And if you can do it at Wimbledon it's amazing. It's definitely the biggest tournament for me. It couldn't be better."
Berdych had lost their previous two matches in straight sets but the elegant right-hander comfortably took the opener on Centre Court in 33 minutes, with the help of some wayward Djokovic groundsstrokes.
Image: Tomas Berdych
Djokovic looked increasingly frustrated
The imposing 1.96 metres Czech, ranked 13th in the world, broke in the sixth game and later sealed the set with a superb low cross-court forehand that left the Serb ruefully shaking his head as he headed to his chair.
Berdych, who got tongues wagging with an impressive run to the French Open semi-finals this year, produced the shock of the tournament when he out-muscled six-times champion Federer.
He was soon to press on once more, even if the lively Wimbledon crowd were backing his opponent - one fan exclaiming, "You're a genius Novak, I love you!"
Berdych received a time violation at 0-30 down in the fourth game but managed to slip out of a break point with another rasping forehand before holding serve after a hesitant Djokovic return sailed out.
Djokovic, the only semi-finalist here never to have won a grasscourt title, looked increasingly frustrated and his mood got worse when the towering Czech broke for 6-5.
Berdych eagerly sought a winner but was stopped in his tracks when his shot hit the tape and dropped stone dead to take the second set to a tiebreak.
Berdych raced into a 6-2 lead only for Djokovic to finally spring into action and with him the Wimbledon crowd woke up.
Image: Novak Djokovic
The match was wrapped up in two hours and 18 minutes
He saved three set points before a titanic rally ended with a Djokovic lob clipping the baseline. The ball was called out, the HawkEye challenge revealed it was in and the Serb was furious the point would be replayed and not awarded to him.
The replayed point produced another cracking exchange which ended when the Serb greeted a scorching backhand down the line winner with an ecstatic roar to level the breaker at 6-6.
Two set points of his own passed by and one for Berdych before a Djokovic double fault handed the Czech a two-set lead.
Djokovic whacked his racket against his chair, received a code violation from umpire Carlos Ramos and mockingly clapped the official as his frustration threatened to boil over.
The 2008 Australian Open winner was soon to endure an unwanted case of deja vu in the third set as another costly double fault handed Berdych the break for 5-3.
A service winner wrapped up proceedings in two hours and 18 minutes with Berdych's modest celebrations that of a man getting used to the big moments rather than enjoying a fairytale dream.
For Djokovic, who reached the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2007 only to retire midway through the match with blisters against Rafa Nadal, a move to second in the world rankings will be scant consolation.
Berdych will face the winner of Friday's other semi-final between British hope Andy Murray and 2008 champion Nadal.
Image: Tomas Berdych celebrates after defeating Djokovic