Monte Carlo SF Preview: Andy Murray vs Rafael Nadal


It is the 23rd meeting between Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal with a trip to the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters final up for grabs. Nadal has dominated the series 16-6, but it was Murray who stunned Nadal in their last clay court meeting. That came in Madrid last year where the Scot wiped out the lefty in the final 6-3, 6-2.

(2) Andy Murray vs (5) Rafael Nadal
Both players will feel good about their performances in the quarterfinals. Murray showed improvement all-around as he demolished Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-0. The usually stout serve of Raonic was pummeled by Murray as the second seed won 26 of 47 points off the Canadian’s serve. He would break the 10th seed five times on nine chances. Murray was efficient and effective with his own serve, winning 30 of 29 points without facing a single break chance.

Nadal also showed vast improvement after playing with fire against Dominic Thiem in the third round. Nadal fought off 15 of 17 break points in that match. He would face just one against 4th seeded Stan Wawrinka in the quarters. Rafa was solid on-serve against the Swiss, winning 33 of 45 points. He was broken just once on a single break chances. The Spaniard was all over Wawrinka’s serve, breaking the 4th seed four times on nine chances. Rafa was especially deadly against Wawrinka’s second serve, winning 18 of 25 points.

Before last year’s Madrid final, Nadal was a perfect 6-0 against Murray on clay. Murray was able to dictate play in that match from the baseline and keep Nadal off-balance as the Spaniard mishit a lot of balls. The Scot would break Rafa three times on six tries, while Nadal could not break Murray on the three chances he had. Second serve was again a big focus in that match-up with Murray putting forth a Herculean effort as he won 18 of 21 second serve points. Nadal would win just six of his 13 second serve points.

Nadal did exact some revenge at the year-end Tour Finals with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Murray in the round robin stage. Again, second serve was a big stat. This time, Murray stumbled as Nadal took 19 of 29 second serve points. Nadal took care of his own serve better in that match, winning 64 percent of his service points and facing just one break chance. He would break Murray four times on nine chances.

Saturday’s semifinal figures to be another lesson in baseline rallying courtesy of Murray and Nadal. Nadal has shown some good aggressive ground strokes at-times this week and would do well to reproduce those to avoid letting Murray dictate play like he did in Madrid. When it comes down to serve, the second serve could well tell the story tomorrow.

Murray has had to go to second serves far too often this week, putting 40+ second serves in-play in two of his three matches. He whittled that down to just 17 against Raonic and a repeat of that will likely have him in good shape Saturday. For Rafa, he’s been solid and avoided putting more than 20 second serves into play in his matches this week. A repeat there would bode well for his bid to make a Masters final.

Not that Murray would be content with losing, but the feeling still is that Nadal is the one who needs this more. He hasn’t won a tournament since last July in Hamburg and the loss to Murray in Madrid last season was his last Masters final. He’s shown better consistency in 2016 with four semifinals and a final, but he’s failed to come through when it counts most.

The winner of this semifinal will be the odds-on favorite to take home the title with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Gael Monfils as the opponent. It may not be easy, but expect Rafa to resume his winning ways over Murray on clay.

Nadal wins in three sets


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