Andy Murray: Breath of fresh air

NEW YORK -- In real life, a generation extends up to 25 years. In the compressed, surreal world of professional sports, generations run about eight years.

In 2004, Lance Armstrong won his unprecedented sixth consecutive Tour de France. That year, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918 and 17-year-old Maria Sharapova won at Wimbledon.

You see? A lot can change in the athletic arena in eight years.

That year at Roland Garros, the men's semifinalists were Tim Henman, Guillermo Coria, David Nalbandian and eventual champion Gaston Gaudio. Only Nalbandian, 30, is still playing, and barely.

That was also the last time the semifinals at a major included neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal -- until this year's U.S. Open.

Nadal is sitting this one out, rehabbing his tired knees at home in Mallorca. For Federer, the last two guys to beat him, Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych, were flailing around in the gusting wind at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Murray flailed far less than Berdych, adapting heroically to the conditions and winning 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (7). It was sometimes difficult to watch as Berdych slowly melted down in the second and third sets. Yet he somehow almost forced it to five.

The match time was 3 hours, 58 minutes.

Murray said it was "probably the toughest" conditions he'd ever played in.

"There is a skill to playing in the wind," Murray said. "I have never played in it when it's been that bad, but people like to watch professionals struggle when they're in tough conditions."

This is Murray's second U.S. Open final -- he lost to Federer in 2008 -- and he will move to No. 3 when the ATP World Tour rankings are released Monday, supplanting Nadal.

But the number that will be bounced around for the next 24-48 hours -- depending when the men's final is completed -- is 0-4. That's Murray's record in major finals. He and his coach, Ivan Lendl, are the only men in the Open era to lose their first four Grand Slam finals. Lendl went on to win eight majors.

Murray won the Olympic gold medal at the All England Club and is playing with his confidence at an all-time high.

Just whom the 25-year-old Scot will play was an immediate mystery. The second semifinal, between No. 2-seeded Novak Djokovic and No. 4 David Ferrer, was being played with a wall of rain approaching from the west. The women's final, scheduled for prime-time Saturday, was pushed to Sunday. If the Djokovic-Ferrer match isn't completed, the men's final will be played Monday for the fifth consecutive year.

Four years ago, he played his last two matches on back-to-back days and then lost in straight sets to Federer, who had enjoyed an extra day off. This time, Murray will get the extra day.

"It would be nice to get a rest tomorrow and also to be able to practice and get your rhythm back," Murray said. "Because, you know, some of the shots I was playing out there today, I certainly won't be playing if it comes down."

The U.S. Open has a reputation as the toughest physical test of the Grand Slams. The backloaded schedule requires the men's and women's semifinals and finals to be played on back-to-back days. The winds of September, including the remnants of hurricanes, can be unrelenting.

On Saturday, there was a tornado warning issued locally and the wind blew stoutly from 20 to 30 mph. It's tough enough to hit a tennis ball at this level, but when it's moving like a knuckleball, well …

At one point early in the proceedings, Murray had his hat blown off his head. He went the rest of the way without. LaGuardia Airport's flight patterns are adjusted during the fortnight for a relatively jet-free atmosphere. The wind Saturday brought the roar of those jet engines right into the players' ears. Murray and Berdych were visited by various pieces of wind-blown trash and, in the middle of the second set, the changeover chairs were blown all the way onto the singles court.

To Murray's former coach, Brad Gilbert, the result was hardly a surprise. Before the match, after studying a weather report on his iPhone, Gilbert predicted a Murray win in four sets.

"Berdych has a huge [service] toss, and he hits a hard, flat forehand," Gilbert said. "If the wind is as bad as they're saying, Berdych has no margin. He won't spin it into the court. He's going to make a ton of errors. Andy? He plays well in these conditions."

Indeed, Murray has a condominium in downtown Miami and practices often with the ocean breeze wreaking havoc with shot trajectories.

The unforced errors: Berdych 64, Murray 20.

How well did Murray play through the adversity? Berdych had 19 errors in the first set and 22 in the fourth. Murray had a total of nine in the final three sets.

Now, can he ride the momentum of winning Olympic gold and collect his first major title? He's a very different player four years after reaching the final here.

"I'm obviously a lot more mature," Murray said. "I have had a lot more experience in these sort of situations, you know, than obviously then. It was my first Slam final.

"It all came round very quick. After playing Rafa and going from Armstrong to Ashe and then playing the next day, it seemed to go by very, very quickly. I hope I deal with it better tomorrow."