Madrid Masters: ‘Marriage works’ for jubilant Andy Murray as he wins 1st clay Masters

Andy Murray beats Rafael Nadal in straight sets to triumph in Madrid and win his first clay Masters crown

Until last week, Andy Murray had been unable to convert his considerable clay-court talent into even a final on the red stuff.

Now, in the space of six days, the man who has reached two French Open semi-finals in his career has won two clay titles—one of them a Masters.

Murray was forced to do it the hard way, as well, with some dreadful scheduling in both Munich and Madrid along the way. First, a washed-out Munich forced him to do double duty at the end of the week, and he had back up those quarter-final and semi-final victories with a three-set thriller of a final played a day late—because of more rain.

A couple of days later, having hot-footed it to the very different clay of Madrid, he found himself playing in the early hours of the morning after the preceding matches all over-ran their time. So late and so tough was the call—for Murray and, once again, for his final Munich opponent Philipp Kohlschreiber—that the incident could translate into a change in regulations.

As if all that was not tough enough, he faced the big-hitting Milos Raonic in the Madrid quarters, last year’s finalist and the Barcelona champion, No4 seed Kei Nishikori in the semis, and finally the defending champion Rafael Nadal in the final. Yet only in that first early-hours match against Kohlschreiber was he taken to three sets.

Certainly Nadal had been far from his best this season as he made his comeback from lost confidence after months of injury and illness last year. He had won only one clay title this year, the 250 in Buenos Aires, lost in his second match in Barcelona, and then to Djokovic in the Monte-Carlo semi-final.

But true to form, his devastating clay-court game was beginning to re-emerge, and he reached the final in the Spanish capital with increasingly impressive performances—such that even the modest Nadal admitted, after thumping Tomas Berdych, that he was on the up: “For the past couple of days I have been playing better and better every day.”

And in 20 previous meetings, Murray had won only five matches, and he had never beaten Nadal in six attempts on clay.

But after firing 24 winners, past Nishikori—a feat in itself—Murray was optimistic that his aggressive game could reap rewards:

“Against Rafa it is going to be extremely difficult, especially playing here in Spain. I think he’s played very well this week, too. Hopefully I can put in a good performance and make it tough for him.”

The tactics, a brilliant blend of aggression from the baseline, chess-like probing deep to both wings, and not a little patience to await his opening, worked immediately.

Murray held to love, broke to love when a Nadal backhand went long, and held to 15: 11 points from 12 and a 3-0 lead.

Nadal began to play himself into form, especially on serve, and made two love holds, but when offered two break points in the seventh game, he was beaten back by a calm Murray. Nadal tried to inject aggression with some deft net finishes to reach 3-5 and it looked as though he was on the march when the Nadal forehand kicked in to great effect and Murray netted an easy forehand. But another break point came and went, and the Murray backhand went from strength to strength, earning the winner that sealed the set, 6-3.

Nadal opened the second set with a double fault, one of a growing number of signs that he was ill at ease. Two more errors, one a messed volley, the second a netted backhand, and he was a break down again.

As if to rub it in, Murray opened with an ace and held to love. He continued to combine patient tactics with penetrating baseline hitting, and threw in a delicate ghost to the net for a volley finish to open the third game. Nadal made more errors, including some unusual shanks on both wings, and Murray worked two more break chances, converting the second for a 3-0 lead.

After almost an hour and half, Murray found himself serving for the set, and two more errors from Nadal at 30-30 ended one of the more extraordinary performances from Nadal and one of the most memorable achievements for Murray, 6-2.

The Briton, then, has reached a tally of 10 Masters crowns, his first on clay, via his best ever clay run: 9-0. Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps not, the run dates back to when he married long-term girlfriend, Kim Sears. Murray has since played with his wedding ring tied into his shoe laces, and if there remained any doubt how contented and calm he is, he signed the camera lens, “Marriage works”. His words were soon trending on Twitter.

He was gracious in his acceptance speech, assuring Nadal that he will be back to his best in no time, and probably well before his campaign for a 10th French Open title begins.

But these remain troubled times for Nadal, as he admitted afterwards: “Clearly it wasn’t the match I hoped to have. I’m looking forward to Rome and French Open now.”

But his loss has repercussion that will affect him in Roland Garros in particular—and those who have the misfortune to fall in his path rather earlier than usual. Nadal will drop to No7 in the rankings, and outside the top five for the first time in exactly 10 years. He could, therefore, become an unwelcome quarter-final opponent for one of the top seeds.

But today belongs to Murray. He smiled, hugged his team—including a beaming Amelie Mauresmo—and then Spain’s queen. He also acknowledged Nadal: “To play Rafa in Spain is extremely tough. This is the reason we play tennis to play these matches, and one of the toughest things is to beat Rafa on clay… I’ll keep trying to play well over the coming weeks… and Rafa, I’m sure in a couple of weeks you’ll be playing your best again very soon.”

Now it’s post haste to Rome for both men—though one suspects Murray may stay up tonight: It’s not often you score two such mighty landmarks in one match.

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