Rafael Nadal will look to exact some revenge for last year’s Mutua Madrid Open final loss to Andy Murray when the pair meet for the third time since that upset win for the Scot. Murray beat Rafa 6-3, 6-2 in last year’s title match in Madrid.
(2) Andy Murray vs (5) Rafael Nadal
Since dropping a set in his opening match this week to Radek Stepanek, Murray has been crushing it. He has won five straight sets since then with three of those seeing his opponent win two or less games. Murray cruised past Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals 6-3, 6-2 to advance to his second straight semifinal in Madrid. The 2nd seed survived a day where he landed just 55 percent of his first serves. The Scot would win 22 of 24 points on his first serve and a stout 14 of 20 on his second. Murray punished Berdych’s serve, breaking him three times as he ate up the second serve of the 8th seed. Murray would win 15 of the 25 points played. Murray has credited increased speed on his second serve with making life tougher on his opponents and that was again on display on Friday versus Berdych.
For Nadal, Friday’s quarterfinal started like a stroll in the park and finished like a 12 round heavyweight fight. The 5th seed could do no wrong and his opponent Joao Sousa could do no right in the opening set. Rafa bageled Sousa with the Portugese winning just five of his 18 service points. The second set saw Sousa up his level as Nadal perhaps relaxed a little as well. Nadal was nearly broken to open the set, but steadied as both players then found a service groove to the 6th game. Nadal would see three break chances amid some rain, but fail to seize control. That would bite him later in the set as Sousa broke late and took set two, 6-4.
The third set saw Nadal dig in on return in the second game, but again fail to produce on a couple break chances. Sousa rolled through his next two service games as the set moved to 4-3 after Nadal held at-love. That is when the 5th seeded lefty upped the ante as he quickly worked Sousa into a 15-40 hole. Nadal would break and then close the match out on serve in just under two hours. The biggest takeaway from this match being that Nadal really should have done better to close out this one more quickly. Dropping the second set cost him an extra hour of exertion on court, which could come into play in the next two rounds.
Nadal and Murray will be meeting for the third time since the Scot’s colossal upset of Nadal last year in the Madrid final. Rafa pounded Murray in the year-end ATP Tour Finals 6-4, 6-1 and then rolled past him in Monte Carlo 2-6, 6-3, 6-2. Nadal leads the all-time series 17-6 and has won seven of eight on clay. The Monte Carlo match gives a perfect example of what to expect on Saturday, albeit in faster conditions this time.
Both were excellent on return, but it was Nadal who won more with 44 percent of the return points won versus 38 percent for Murray. Both allowed double digit break chances. Rafa saved eight of eleven, while Murray saved six of ten. The key thing to remember in Monte Carlo is that Murray seemed to get very agitated and defeatist as the final set wore on and he could not find a way back into the match. Murray went so far as to call Nadal’s mind games “fascinating” as the Spaniard took advantage of a trainer’s visit in the third and also made Murray nervy with the amount of time he took in between points. Basically, vintage Nadal.
That takes us to Saturday where you’d be unwise not to expect a long match again between these two players. The Monte Carlo three setter went around two and a half hours. A key for Murray is going to be approaching this match with a good mentality and knowing that Nadal is going to use all the tricks in his bag to annoy the Scot. When Andy gets testy about pace of play, it’s going to effect his own play and that plays well into Nadal’s favor.
The Pig expects baseline tennis in this one as we’ll see plenty of long rallies from back on the court, although it was Nadal who moved in some in Monte Carlo to reverse the advantage Murray has early. Rafa wants to hit that topspin forehand as much as he can and Murray will want to try and move Nadal into uncomfortable positions that don’t allow him to hit as many forehands. The more Murray can get it to Nadal’s backhand, the better. Easier said than done of course.
It will be interesting to see if Murray’s willingness to put more miles per hour on his second serve will help him against Nadal. Murray’s serve has been very good since the Stepanek match and the less break chances that Rafa sees, the better shot Murray has to repeat last year’s win. Of course upping the serve speed is easier when you don’t have a world class returner on the other end. It remains to be seen if the 2nd seed will keep employing that methodology on Saturday against Rafa. If he doesn’t, he could fall into a similar pattern like he did in Monte Carlo that could again play into the hands of Nadal.
I went with a Djokovic-Nadal final in the preview and I have not seen a ton this week to stray from that thought. Rafa’s hiccup in set two against Sousa is a tad concerning, but he still showed more of his trademark grinding to get through the match. Winning ugly is better than not winning at all. Although he’s already technically exacted his revenge for last year’s Madrid loss with a couple of wins against Murray, I’d expect Rafa to love to dish it out again at the site of last year’s final debacle. It’s just another step in reaffirming his spot in the pecking order on clay and a step close to seeing if he is any closer to competing with Novak Dkovic.
Nadal wins in three sets