Miami Open 2015: Murray & Nadal impress, Wawrinka battles through

No2 seed Rafael Nafal and No3 seed Andy Murray ease into the third round of the Miami Open

No3 seed Andy Murray Photo: Marianne Bevis

It’s hot, sultry and Technicolor bright, surrounded by golden beaches and blue seas—Key Biscayne is popular with the players packing out Crandon Park for good reason. And two of the men who feel most at home in Miami—No2 seed Rafael Nadal and no3 seed Andy Murray—opened their campaigns on a sizzling but showery, bright but breezy Friday afternoon.

Nadal is the most successful man yet to win a title here. Four times he has been runner-up, the first time as an 18-year-old when he took the first two sets in what was, back then, a best-of-five format in Masters finals. Roger Federer came back in a tight third-set tie-breaker and went on to win, but the young Spaniard had announced his arrival at the top table in no uncertain manner.

He came close against Novak Djokovic in 2011, too: now in a best-of-three format, the match was decided in the Serb’s favour in a concluding tie-breaker.

Yet Miami has remained persistently elusive for Nadal who revels in the Spanish atmosphere created by the huge numbers of Latin fans who regard this Masters as their home tournament.

And talking of home, Miami is the second home and training base of the Briton used to much cooler climes. For years, Murray has put in the hard yards in the demanding heat and humidity of Miami, indeed practises on the Centre Court of Crandon Park. And that has shown in his success in the Keys. He was a semi-finalist in only his second visit as a 19-year-old, won two years later, and reached the finals in 2012 and 2013, winning the latter—a victory that took him to a career-high No2 for the first time.

Murray’s 2014 was none too shabby, either, for a man recently returned to the tour from back surgery: a quarter-final run. That meant, though, that the performances of the Briton and his rival Nadal, even in the early stages of this year’s tournament, could be very significant. Murray arrived in Miami only 115 points behind Nadal in the rankings and only 235 ahead of the next man, No4 seed Kei Nishikori.

With a lot on the line, both also had tricky opening opponents.

Donald Young, an American of much talent but wayward form, was showing some of that early ability this season: his second tour final in Delray Beach and the semis in Memphis, to stand at his highest ranking in three years, 44, up from 200 two years ago. But Murray had dominated Young this year in their Davis Cup meeting in Glasgow, and he quickly seemed to have the American’s number again, borne out by his racing to a 5-1 lead for the loss of just one point on his serve, and that a double fault.

Young, to his credit, tried to impose his style of play, attacking and chasing to the net when possible, but Murray was able to neutralise the left-hander’s forehand, which held the American back. The wind, too, caused both a lot of problems, and errors piled up as their first serves missed the mark: neither reached 50 percent in the first set. Young managed a break back for 3-5, but another love hold from Murray sealed the set, 6-4, in 42 minutes. The winner count was low—13 between them—but Young’s 21 errors were his major problem.

And although Young got a little more traction in the second set, the broad picture was much the same. Murray got a break in the first game and another in the fifth, and his defence in the face of some hustling net play from Young paid dividends.

Both, though, began to look drained by the very heavy conditions, and Murray attempted two poor drop shots and then netted a backhand to face two break points. However, he held with an ace, 5-1, and after one more easy hold, Murray had set and match, 6-2.

Considering the windy conditions, Murray did well to keep his winner-error differential to four—Young’s was a much poorer 15-35.

Murray next plays Santiago Giraldo, and requires just two more match-wins to reach 500. Blocking his path to the quarters, though, will be Kevin Anderson, who came back to beat Sam Querrey in a thriller, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4.

The next highest seed in Murray’s quarter, No7 Stan Wawrinka, had to dig deep to produce some fine tennis in holding off the gutsy 32-year-old Argentine, Carlos Berlocq. Wawrinka finally won the battle of the single-handed backhands 6-7(9), 7-5, 6-2. Wawrinka had to defend break points up to the last game, in one of the matches of the day, a 2hr 50min thriller in which the Swiss made 23 out of 24 points at the net. He will no doubt be glad of a recuperative day tomorrow to celebrate his 30th birthday.

In the same quarter, in another single-handed backhand fest, the talented 21-year-old Dominic Thiem beat a man 12 years his senior, Feliciano Lopez, in another tight three-setter, 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3.

The four-time Miami runner-up Nadal faced compatriot Nicolas Almagro, a man he had dominated in all 10 matches until their meeting in Barcelona last year. There, Almagro scored a famous victory from a set down, only to be forced to retire in his first match at Roland Garros. He subsequently missed the rest of 2014 after ankle surgery.

But of course Nadal has been no stranger to physical set-backs in the last eight months, but already had 14 match-wins and a title this year, and quarter-final runs at the Australian Open and Indian Wells. Meanwhile Almagro carried a tough first-round three-setter over Sergiy Stakhovsky in his legs.

The single-handed Spaniard, though, put up a sterling fight against his illustrious two-handed compatriot, conceded just one break in the first set, and failed to convert three break-back chances at 5-4. Nadal finally served it out, 6-4, after 53 minutes, and broke early again in the second. He broke again in the fifth game and served out the match, 6-2 after an hour and half.

Nadal could meet another Spaniard in the next round: Fernando Verdasco had yet to James Duckworth for that honour when the rain-storms swept in over the Keys.

Deeper into the draw, Nadal is scheduled to meet No8 seed Tomas Berdych in the quarters. The big Czech beat the feisty 18-year-old Korean, Hyeon Chung, 6-3, 6-4. Before that, Berdych faces another test in the No25 seed, the 22-year-old in-form Bernard Tomic.

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