MASON, Ohio (AP
)—Rafael Nadal’s move to No. 1 will have to wait a couple of more weeks.
Looking weary after two months of nonstop winning, the 22-year-old Spaniard got run around the court Saturday and, ultimately, bounced from the Cincinnati Masters one step short of another title match. Instead, Novak Djokovic reached the final with a 6-1, 7-5 victory that delayed the inevitable.
The third-seeded Djokovic will play Andy Murray for the title on Sunday. Murray reached his first Masters series final by beating Ivo Karlovic 6-4, 6-4.
By reaching the semifinals of the $2.6 million ATP Western & Southern Financial Group Masters, Nadal piled up enough points to overtake Roger Federer as the world’s No. 1 player. Given the way points accrue—the last 52 weeks are counted—he will surpass Federer in the Aug. 18 rankings.
Federer has been No. 1 for a record 235 consecutive weeks. He and Nadal have been ranked 1-2 since July 25, 2005. Nadal will become the third Spaniard to hold the No. 1 spot, joining Carlos Moya (1999) and Juan Carlos Ferrero (2003).
He could have moved up immediately by winning in Cincinnati, but wore down as the week went along. Djokovic ended Nadal’s long run of winning tennis—32 straight matches, five straight tournaments—by being more aggressive and making Nadal work hard for every point.
Djokovic ran off the first eight points in the match, and allowed Nadal to win only six points while he pulled ahead 5-0. During the second set, Nadal missed a backhand so badly that the ball flew into the fifth row of seats behind the baseline.
After a so-so performance in the semifinals on Thursday night, Nadal said he was starting to feel the effect of all those matches he’s played in the last two months, including his epic five-set victory over Federer at Wimbledon.
Nadal’s consolation: He’s finally caught Federer.
“He’s been unbelievable for the last five years,” Murray said, referring to Federer. “He’s still playing great. It happens in every sport: When someone sets the bar so high, guys find a way of creeping up behind you.”
Karlovic made a change at the top possible. The 6-foot-10 Croat was in a deep slump heading into the tournament, having lost his last three matches. The fast courts in Cincinnati suited his hard-to-track serve.
Karlovic put together the most surprising run of the tournament—and pulled off its biggest upset. He knocked off Federer in three sets Thursday, opening the way for Nadal to move ahead of the Swiss star.
Playing in his first Masters series semifinal, Karlovic met his match. Murray’s solid game prevented Karlovic from getting comfortable. Karlovic had 32 unforced errors to Murray’s nine.
Murray didn’t consider it a big deal to reach his first Masters final. Winning it would be something else.
“I don’t think there’s a huge difference between a semifinal and a final, but to win it would be huge,” Murray said. “I’m going to have to play against one of the best players in the world to win it. I feel like I’m playing well enough to do it.”
During his first four matches, Karlovic held serve in 49 of 50 games, the only failure coming against Federer. Murray broke his serve twice in the opening set, setting the tone.
It’s been an encouraging summer for Murray, the top-ranked British player at No. 9. At Wimbledon, the 21-year-old Scot reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time. He also reached the semifinals last week in Toronto before losing to Nadal.
His biggest concern has been his right knee. An irregular kneecap can cause swelling and pain, and the matches on hard courts last week left him with some inflammation. He had a scan last Monday to make sure nothing was seriously wrong.
Murray twisted the knee on a shot in the quarterfinals Friday, leaving him limping for several minutes. He moved fluidly Saturday and kept Karlovic off-balance. He twisted the knee slightly during the second set and needed a few seconds to stretch.
“It’s fine,” Murray said. “I’ve been making sure I get ice on it after every match. It hurts sometimes after matches.”