ATP MADRID MASTERS 1000: Murray’s Clay Form Faces Ultimate Test

It will be a battle of champions at the Caja Majica as four time champion Rafael Nadal of Spain and the 2008 champion Andy Murray of Scotland will contest the final of the Mutua Madrid Open ATP 1000 on Sunday as both advanced with relative ease against potentially tricky opponents Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and Kei Nishikori of Japan respectively.

Nadal who won this title first in 2005 (d. Ljubicic) on indoor hard courts and thrice on the red clay in 2010 (d. Federer), 2013 (d. Wawrinka) and in 2014 ( d. Nishikori) will now look to extend his tally of 27 Masters title. Federer and Djokovic have won 23 titles each. He improved to 39-8 in Madrid and is 23-7 for the year as he avenged his quarter-final loss at this year Australian Open to Berdych who had then stopped a run of 17 consecutive losses to the Spaniard. The Czech has reached atleast the semi-finals or better at 7 of the eight tournaments this year dropped to 30-8. The first set was decided by a tie-break and Berdych who had a 13-1 record in it this year as was always fighting a backs with his backs to the wall saving break points in the seventh and eleventh games. In the second set too Nadal broke serve twice in both the fourth and sixth games despite Berdych having points to hold serve in both and he booked his entry into his seventh Madrid final with a 7-6(3), 6-1 victory in 1 hour and 44 minutes.

Andy Murray who won this event on Indoor hard court in 2008 (d. Simon) before the event was shifted to European clay court season at the expense of Hamburg with Shanghai getting the Madrid slot was in devastating form as he improved his record to 9-0 on his least favourite clay beating Kei Nishikori 6-3,6-4 in a battle of two players who had never lost on clay this year. While Murray won his maiden clay court title in Munich, Nishikori defended his Barcelona crown successfully in April. Murray has 9 ATP 1000 titles in his career and will be contesting his fourteenth final. He is 29-5 for the year finishing runner up at the Australian Open in Melbourne and also in Miami loosing to the world number One Novak Djokovic who returns next week in Rome after skipping the event he won in 2011 (d. Nadal). Nishikori the winner in Memphis and Barcelona dropped to 29-6 in 2015 and also looses 240 points from his outing in Madrid where he had a runner up finish loosing to Nadal. Murray broke serve twice in the first set and although Nishikori broke in the third game of the second set to go up 2-1, Murray broke back immediately to gain control of the match played in the evening session.

The Spaniard has a 15-5 head to head record against Murray and has won all their six previous meetings on clay including the semi-finals at the French Open in 2014. Despite his new found confidence on clay not many would bet against Nadal in what should be a close contest. Murray’s time should come but will probably have to wait. Nadal in three sets!

– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy.You can reach him at the email: sportzcosmos@gmail.com]

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