- Nadal beats Murray at World Tour Finals
- Spaniard prevails 6-4 6-1 in London
- He improves to 2-0 in his group
- Reaches the semis after Wawrinka tops Ferrer
London (CNN)The Rafael Nadal revival is inching ever upwards.
Hampered by nerves and a loss of confidence for large parts of a mostly disappointing 2015, the Spaniard has performed much better since the U.S. Open to give his fans hope of a sustained recovery next year.
There were appearances in the final in Beijing and Basel, coupled with a semifinal showing at the Shanghai Masters. Even when he fell in the quarterfinals at the Paris Masters, Nadal wasn't far off against twice grand slam champion Stan Wawrinka, holding set points in both sets of his 7-6 (10-8) 7-6 (9-7) defeat.
After overcoming Wawrinka on Monday at the World Tour Finals -- the Swiss, it must be said, was dire -- Nadal collected his most meaningful victory in a while, downing Andy Murray 6-4 6-1 in London at one of the few elite tournaments he has never won. He advanced to the semifinals from Group Ilie Nastase with a 2-0 record later Wednesday when Wawrinka, the French Open champion, rebounded to beat 2013 Roland Garros finalist David Ferrer 7-5 6-2.
Those fans might not have to wait until 2016, then, for a huge title.
Murray, meanwhile, dropped to 1-1 and plays Wawrinka (1-1) on Friday; the winner joins Nadal in the last four.
Not since the French Open final of 2014 had Nadal beaten someone as high in the rankings as the No. 2 Scot. That day, as the world No. 1, he fended off second-ranked Novak Djokovic to claim the last of his 14 grand slam titles.
"Today I feel free," Nadal told reporters. "I feel (enjoyment) on court. That doesn't mean I'm going to play well in every match. That means I am happy.
"Happy how things are going the last couple of weeks.
"It's good to finish the year with this positive energy."
Murray handed Nadal one of his most painful losses this year, crushing the out-of-sorts left-hander in front of his home supporters at the Madrid Masters in May. He encountered a different Nadal at the O2 Arena.
"He's clearly playing better now than a few months ago," Murray told reporters.
Nadal isn't into revenge -- he has made that clear before -- but topping the Scot in the English capital, where Murray has won Wimbledon and an Olympic gold medal, is sure to boost his morale further.
When things were particularly tough for Nadal this campaign, he resisted calls to tinker with his coaching setup, which is led by his Uncle Toni. But he has visibly made changes on court, such as attempting winners on second-serve returns, flattening his forehand and stepping in on backhands.
Nadal miscued on several second-serve returns in the first set Wednesday, yet the tactic will benefit him in the future -- if the goal is to become more aggressive. The fifth seed succeeded on one thumping second-serve return at a crucial time, pummeling an inside-out forehand to earn three set points at 5-4.
Nadal created seven break points in the first as Murray's first-serve percentage waned -- it can be low, but 45% is lower than normal -- although the 28-year-old had his chances, too. He was consistently ahead in his opponent's service games.
Murray also found time to cut a snippet of his hair during a changeover, adding to the wackiness during changeovers this year. Wawrinka sipped a coffee during his win over Nadal in Paris, and women's No. 1 Serena Williams ordered coffee at the Hopman Cup in January.
Murray became annoyed when he was repeatedly asked about the incident.
"I don't know why such minor things make such a big deal to you guys," he said.
The first set stretched to 57 minutes, bringing back memories of the last time they played at the World Tour Finals in 2010 -- Nadal prevailed 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 7-6 (8-6) in an energy-sapping three hours, 11 minutes.
This time there would be no marathon encounter. Unsettled by conceding the opener -- and perhaps distracted, if only slightly, by Great Britain's upcoming Davis Cup final against Belgium that starts November 27 -- Murray wilted in the second. His first-serve percentage dipped further.
"I served an extremely low percentage, maybe the lowest percentage I served the whole year in any match," said Murray. "That's not good enough against someone as good as Rafa."
He never recovered from being broken in the second game, when he struck back-to-back double faults. From the conclusion of the first set into the early stages of the second, Nadal tallied 16 of 18 points. Overall Nadal was flawless at the net.
He earned a double break advantage for 5-1 and held in the next game, striking a curled forehand winner on match point to delay Murray's bid to seal the year-end No. 2 ranking. Murray will get there if he beats fourth seed Wawrinka.
Ferrer battles his fellow Spaniard Nadal on Friday knowing that he has already been eliminated. He led Wawrinka 5-2 in the first, holding a set point in the ninth game.
Roger Federer, Nadal's great rival, became the first player to progress Tuesday after upsetting Djokovic in Group Stan Smith.