Rome Masters 2014: Rafael Nadal edges out Andy Murray in a thriller
Quarterfinal: Rafael Nadal def. Andy Murray 1-6 6-3 7-5
What a thriller this one was! In their first meeting since 2011, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal showed the people watching around the world what separates the big 4 from the rest in terms of match quality and entertainment. The two produced a classic match in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters, with the ‘King of Clay’ denying the Brit his first ever victory against him on a clay court, but not before the Brit gave him a run for his money.
Nadal won the match after two hours and forty minutes of electrifying tennis, but it was as encouraging a sign for Murray as it was for Nadal, and both players would take a lot of positives from this match, heading into Roland Garros.
It was a strong start from Murray. He served with authority and closed out the opening game. Nadal started serving strongly too, but conceded break point and Murray took advantage of an error from Nadal. He was tested on his next service game with Nadal gaining three break points, but he defended all 3 with some brilliantly placed shots. There were lot of long exchanges between the two and it was entertaining to watch.
Murray consolidated the break and Nadal was again in trouble, this time conceding three break points. Murray hit one long, but converted on the second break point to take a commanding 4-0 lead.
The British no.1 produced another scintillating game on serve. Nadal pushed him again to deuce, but he fired another ace after saving a brilliant point, to go within one game of handing Nadal a bagel on clay. There was a state of shock around the court as Murray led 5-0.
What was interesting was Nadal was playing better than he did in his previous match, but Murray was playing at another level altogether. He confidently stepped up well into the court and blasted backhands past Nadal. Nadal managed to hold on to serve though, to open his account, but not without Murray giving a stiff challenge again.
Murray produced his best service game of the tournament yet, racing to 3 set points. He double faulted, but Nadal hit a forehand long, giving Murray the set in 37 minutes.
Murray’s main ploy today was attacking Nadal’s second serve with the backhand cross court. Nadal knew he had to start the second set strongly and he went about his business the right way, getting first serves in, and controlling the rallies. But his forehand errors were a deterrent as he conceded two points after being up 40-15. As he was battling to hold serve, he also got a time violation.
Murray was firing on all cylinders, as his backhand worked to perfection. He reached break point, but Nadal saved it with an ace. He reached game point with a superb overhead smash and finished with an ace. In the circumstances, this was a huge hold for Nadal and he knew it.
Murray on the other hand, continued where he left off in the first set. There was precision and power in his shots and the placement was absolutely perfect. But Nadal was there this time. He reached his fourth break point of the match with a brilliantly controlled point, but Murray, on the verge of conceding the break, made a terrific scramble and Nadal sliced it weakly to Murray who smashed it away.
Nadal reached break point again when Murray double faulted, and this time Nadal made no mistake as he cornered Murray with his powerful forehands, forcing him to hit long.
The comeback was firmly in place with Nadal now the aggressor, pushing Murray to all corners, stepping inside and smashing an overhead. The signal was clear. Nadal wasn’t in any mood to let go of this contest.
Murray managed to get on board, but the momentum was still with Nadal. He started serving and volleying, and there was no way Murray could reach it. He followed it up with an ace and an incredible get from the baseline which just dropped past the net, and an unforced error from the Brit gave Nadal a 4-1 lead.
Nadal produced a huge backhand down the line on Murray’s serve at 30-30 to earn another break point. Murray saved it with a backhand of his own and held on for 4-2.
The Spaniard was brimming with confidence though, and it showed in his game. He reeled off four points in a row, making Murray serve for the set.
Murray was made to work hard. Nadal forced the game to deuce with a backhand volley at the net. But Murray held on, putting the onus on Nadal to close the set.
Nadal again approached the net time and again. He was 11/11 on points won at the net, and let out a roar after he finished a long rally with a deep backhand crosscourt. He closed the set with a forehand error, pushing it into the third set.
Murray needed to start strong in order to stem Nadal’s domination of the game at the moment, but after going 30-0 up, he lost 4 points in a row, gifting Nadal the break with a double fault.
What followed was an unbelievable game. Nadal, seemingly in command to consolidate the break at 40-15, conceded two brilliant points from Murray, who produced an insane angled shot from the net past Nadal. He then wrong footed him to take it to break point. He made a crucial mistake on Nadal’s second serve though, striking the net. Nadal conceded two more break points when he approached the net for a sliced drop shot. He converted on the second, forcing Nadal to hit the net.
It was a crucial game for Murray to hold now. Nadal forced a break point out of Murray this time, but he saved it when Nadal hit long. The exchanges between these two were a treat to watch for the neutral spectator, while fans had their hearts in their mouths.
Nadal responded brilliantly, with another love hold. His net play was simply superb as he had won 16 of 19 points at the net.
It was now Murray’s turn to hold, and he seemed to be struggling with his back. Still, he took the game, taking a 3-2 lead in the final set.
The atmosphere was tense as Murray went up 0-30 on Nadal’s serve, and the world no.1 was in danger of conceding a decisive break. A long rally followed, with both men hitting lung bursting shots, but a weak forehand to the net gave Murray three break points.
But Nadal is not the king of clay for no reason. He saved all three break points with superb first serves, the third one being an ace. Murray reached another break point with a huge forehand cross court and on Nadal’s second serve, gave him ample time to smack it back across the court and take a 4-2 lead.
Murray was within two games of taking his first ever win over Nadal on clay, but the Spanish matador refused to be bogged down. He created two break point opportunities of his own and converted on the first with an excellent retrieve of a forehand smash, which Murray could only hit long. The crowd was on its feet as Nadal pirouetted, bringing the set back on serve.
The crowd was firmly behind Nadal now, as he attempted to bring the set level on scores. Murray was holding his own too, as the players reached the climax of the match.
Nadal had a look in the ninth game, as he was up 15-30 on Murray’s serve, but flailed a forehand long. The next point Nadal produced the passing shot of the tournament, as it exactly caught the line, giving him break point. Murray saved it with a huge overhead. But a lapse of concentration made him mistime a weak backhand to the net, and this time it looked like Nadal had broken, only to realize his backhand pass was inches away.
The drama ended there though, as Nadal fired long, and now served to stay in the match. Nadal couldn’t have had a better moment for an easy hold, and he got it, with a love hold.
The pressure was on Murray now. Nadal got the opening point with a delightful drop after he hit a weak lob smash. He went up 0-30 with superb anticipation of Murray’s returns and fored him to hit wide. He earned three break points with yet another point when he was on the back foot.
Murray double faulted, and Nadal was one game away from booking his spot in the semifinals.
There was no sign of nervousness this time around from the bull. He changed direction well and ran Murray around the baseline. Genius tennis followed from Nadal as he reached two match points with a superb sliced drop yet again. He needed only one as Murray hit long on Nadal’s second serve, getting a deserved victory.
Nadal has never been tested as much as he has during a clay court Masters event as he has been in this tournament, with him battling through in three sets in all matches, and coming through each one of them. This was his toughest test yet, but as always he was relentless, and ultimately was just a bit too good for Murray to handle. He now faces talented youngster Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinals in what could be another long and enthralling match.