Rafael Nadal has battled for three hours to beat Andy Murray 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 for a chance to fight David Ferrer for his seventh consecutive Monte Carlo crown. It was a dramatic, strange and entertaining match as the two players went through patches of brilliance and difficulty.
Their match was scheduled to start at 3pm to determine the final finalist for the Monte Carlo event. The crowd sat and waited for Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal before it was announced that Murray had a painful elbow and had been advised to warm up for more time before deciding if he was going to play. An anxious packed house waited and eventually the men came out on court – Murray sans any tape or real indicator that something was astray.
Despite his apparently sore elbow Murray worked his way to two break points in Nadal opening service game, a poor forehand from the Spaniard giving allowing Andy to have the early advantage.
As you would expect from the world number one and the best clay courter the world has ever seen, Rafa elevated his game, forcing Murray well back behind the baseline and to defend like his life depended on it. Similarly Nadal found himself with two break points, converting the first to level and get proceedings back on serve.
Murray tried to bring Nadal into the net and then force him to charge back towards the baseline to try and prevent protracted baseline rallies. When Nadal stepped in, grunted and belted his forehand Murray was often bullied from side to side. Murray continued to try this before a brilliant backhand overhead volley winner saved a break point in the fourth game, but it wasn’t enough to stop Nadal from taking a 3-1 lead.
Fantastic shots from Murray forced Nadal to produce some amazing play to defend some serious pressure on serve. Nadal continued to struggle on serve, double faulting to give Murray triple break point, only two of which the Spaniard could defend, allowing Murray to get the match back on serve at 3-4.
The crowd loudly cheered “Andy! Andy! Andy!” (seemingly forgetting that just days ago they booed him) desperate for another Murray/Nadal nail biter.
The error count off Nadal’s racquet continued to grow as Murray battled for nearly 15 minutes to level at 4-4 and I started to wonder if maybe there was more wrong with Rafa that with Murray’s elbow. The world number one seemed off – either distracted or not moving well – but eventually he forced Murray to step up to try and stay in the set.
The balls Nadal was hitting were so short they were often dropping inside the service box, a style of play that reminded me of that caused by the disastrous knee problems of 2009. Somehow, after the same length of time that Nadal required to send Jarkko Nieminen packing, Rafa finally won the first set 6-4.
Rafa’s mum Ana Maria, sister Maribel and girlfriend Xisca Perello stood to applaud their man.
As Nadal’s side to side movement seemed to improve his forehand failed twice at pivotal moments allowing Murray to draw first blood in the second set for a 2-1 lead. The next game went forever as Murray battled to hold serve, his often criticized forehand frequently coming to his rescue.
As the clocked ticked past the two hour mark you had to think David Ferrer was sitting in his hotel room happily watching his possibly opponents battling it out. One apparently injured, the other far from his best.
Nadal starred down the barrel of a second break of serve as his forehand again failed, his serve ultimately rescuing him, the crowd still loudly supporting Murray. The score was reflecting the stats: Nadal hit only 2 winners for the set up to 1-3 and Murray had won 22 baseline rallies compared to 18 from the Mallorcan.
Nadal’s movement still seemed off as Nadal surrendered his serve again and fell behind 1-4. After getting one break back Rafa found himself behind 0-40 and then produced a double fault – another uncharacteristic error under pressure. After 71 minutes the 6-2 set, and the momentum, was Murray’s. It was the first set Murray had ever taken off Rafa on clay.
Finally Nadal held to love in the third set and finally there was some fire in the belly of Nadal as he broke for a 2-0 lead. Murray was irritated as he was denied the trainer, being told he had to wait until the change of ends.
Rafa seemed to find his shots again winning 12 of 14 aces including his third ace of the match, letting the Spaniard move to a 3-0 advantage and Murray sat down for treatment. As the signs of life from the world number one increased he started crunching forehands as Murray battled on.
After two hours and 46 minutes Murray was displaying the body language of a defeated man as he fell behind 0-4 in the decisive set. Despite all his effort to get ahead Nadal played a horrible service game, uncharacteristically wildly missing a smash and surrendering one break back. Murray gave it back instantly allowing Nadal to serve for the match.
Murray should be commended for his efforts and fight, and with time we will hear more about this elbow injury. His forehand was the best I remember it being in a while and he played a great second set.
Nadal will now fight for his seventh consecutive Monte Carlo title, hopefully by hitting some deeper balls and showing some more fire, against compatriot David Ferrer tomorrow.
Today’s win was Rafa’s 200th Masters 1000 match win.