Rafael Nadal vs Andy Murray: Who has been the better grasscourt player?
- Andy Murray & Rafael Nadal both have impressive records on grass, but opinion is divided on who between them is better.
- To determine which of the two has been a better grasscourt player, a closer look at the stats is warranted.
Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal are two of 12 players overall and four active players in the Open Era to have won multiple titles at Wimbledon, the only Major in the tennis calendar that is held on grass.
Grass is a unique surface where the ball stays lower and travels quicker than on hardcourt and clay. Many players who are good on other surfaces struggle to make a seamless transition when they play on grass.
Ivan Lendl, an eight-time Grand Slam winner, fell short in two Wimbledon finals, falling to Boris Becker in 1986 and Pat Cash in 1987. Lendl once skipped his favorite Roland Garros to prepare for Wimbledon, but even that wasn't enough for him to break the duck.
Among current players, it is fairly obvious that the two best grasscourt players are Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. But who is the third best? That question was asked by Tennis Channel yesterday, and there have been sharply divided opinions on it.
Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal's overall grasscourt record
Let's start with Murray first. The Scot is the only active player apart from Roger Federer to have won over 100 matches on grass. Overall, 19 players have accomplished this feat.
With a 107-21 record, Andy Murray has an impressive 83.6% success rate on the surface. Murray's eight titles on grass are equaled or exceeded only by Roget Federer (19), Pete Sampras (10) and Jimmy Connors (9).
Rafael Nadal has also lost a similar number of matches on grass - 20 to be exact. But his tally of 71 wins on the surface gives him a 78% success rate, which is at least five percentage points less than that of Murray.
Nadal has also won just four titles on grass in his career, which is exactly half of what Murray has bagged.
Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal's record at Wimbledon
This is one parameter where the two players are really close. Both Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal have two Wimbledon titles apiece against their names. Murray triumphed at SW19 in 2013 and 2016 while Nadal did so in 2008 and 2010.
During his 2013 run, Murray did not meet a player comfortable on grass until the fourth round, where he locked horns with Mikhail Youzhny. In the quarters Murray recovered from a two-set deficit to down Fernando Verdasco, who is known more for his claycourt prowess.
After dropping a set against first-time Slam semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz, Murray beat top seed Novak Djokovic in straight sets to become the first British player in over eight decades to win Wimbledon.
Three years later Murray had an even easier run to the title. He dropped his only sets of the tournament against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinal, before beating Tomas Berdych and first-time Grand Slam finalist Milos Raonic in straight sets.
Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, had to work incredibly hard for his first Wimbledon title in 2008. The Spaniard lost just one set en route to his second consecutive final at the tournament, but that's where all the drama began.
Nadal looked to have taken a stranglehold of the final when he took a two-set lead against the five-time defending champion Roger Federer. But he eventually came within two points of defeat in the fifth set, before fighting back in fading light to become the first Spanish player in the Open Era to win Wimbledon.
Two years later Nadal had a tougher run to the final - not in terms of the opponents he faced, but by the type of tussles he had in the early rounds. He survived consecutive 2-sets-to-1 deficits in the second and third round against Robin Haase and Philipp Petzschner respectively.
Nadal then saw off 2009-10 Roland Garros finalist Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals. The Spaniard beat Andy Murray in a straight-sets semifinal and finally overwhelmed first-time Grand Slam finalist Tomas Berdych without dropping a set.
That made Nadal the 10th player in the Open Era to win multiple Wimbledon titles.
The Spaniard (5) has made more finals than Murray (3) at Wimbledon, but both players have made seven semifinals apiece. Murray (10), however, has played more quarterfinals than Nadal at the grasscourt Major.
However, if their overall records at Wimbledon are to be compared, Andy Murray (57-10; 85%) is the clear winner over Rafael Nadal (53-12; 81.5%). At the same time, it must be noted that Nadal has beaten Murray on all three occasions the two have crossed swords at SW19 (2008 quarterfinals, 2010-11 semifinals).
Whose game is more suited to grass: Andy Murray's, or Rafael Nadal's?
Andy Murray likes to rally from the baseline but is not hesitant to make occasional forays to the net.
The Scot first announced his title prowess at SW19 when he came from two sets down to beat Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the 2008 fourth round. However, in the quarterfinals, Murray went down to eventual winner Nadal in straight sets.
Murray has some of the softest hands on tour, which help him take the ball on the rise and redirect pace with aplomb. He also has an excellent slice and razor-sharp reflexes, which help him immensely while defending or returning serve on grass.
Rafael Nadal, much like Murray, is a counterpuncher on the surface, but even he does make the occasional volley to end points quickly. The Spaniard assessed his own game on grass by saying:
"I improved my serve to play better on grass, that’s true that I am able to play more aggressive, to slice better, to go to the net better than before."
Nadal's left-handed slice serve on grass is a formidable weapon, and he rarely misses overheads. Despite possessing decent volleys, the Spaniard has acknowledged his 'evolving' serve-and-volley game, which is still a work in progress.
"I don’t go to grass and play serve and volley because it’s not my game."
Brad Gilbert, former coach of Andre Agassi, once said that the Spaniard considerably improved his grasscourt game with time. Nadal started standing closer to the baseline on serve than he does on clay, and also looked to take charge of points earlier than usual.
Gilbert also noted how Nadal's wise refusal to overuse his trademark inside-out forehand - which could leave "too much court undefended" - has helped him make a smooth transition to the quick surface.
Despite his superior numbers on the surface - and especially at Wimbledon - Andy Murray comes up second-best on grass to Rafael Nadal.
Although there is little difference between the two in terms of break points converted on grass (Nadal-41%, Murray-42%), Nadal wins 59% second serve points on grass compared to Murray's 55%, which is a noticeable difference.
Lastly, both players' pedigree on grass must be judged by how they fared against the best player on the surface, a certain Roger Federer.
Nadal beat a rampaging Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final when the Swiss legend was arguably at the peak of his prowess. It was Nadal's only win over Federer in four matches on grass, but remains a hugely significant victory.
Andy Murray's lone win in three matches against Federer on grass came in the 2012 London Olympics gold medal match. The Scot lost to the Swiss legend in the 2012 Wimbledon final from a set up, and in straight sets in the 2015 Wimbledon semifinals.