Recap: @MutuaMadridOpen Men’s Semi Final
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
Andy Murray vs Rafael Nadal:
In a rematch of last year’s final, where Murray romped to a 6-3, 6-2 to take home his first clay court masters, Nadal looked to make his second straight Madrid Open final. The Spaniard is in search of his 50th clay court title, which would be an open era record.
In a match between two of the best defensive players on tour, the rallies were predictably long and gruelling, and in the early stages it was the second seed that was in the ascendancy. In the fourth game of the match, Murray earned triple break point. Nadal was able to save the first two, but the pressure on the return was too much and Murray raced into an early lead.
Nadal missed two chances to break back at 4-2, but when Murray served for the set, the Spaniard applied more pressure. Errors began spewing from the Brit’s racket and Nadal broke back to get the set back on serve.
The set seemed destined for a tiebreaker, but a poor game from Nadal at 6-5 gave Murray three set points- the defending champion made no mistake. A blistering forehand return winner sealed the opener 7-5.
Looking to respond in quick fashion, Nadal earned break points in the opening game of the second set but was unable to convert. The fifth seed earned two more chances in a long fourth game, but Murray saved them both with big serve-forehand combos.
Despite the Nadal pressure it was Murray who earned the first break of the second set. The Brit took advantage of some errors from the Spaniard and drew first blood in the second. Nadal earned two chances to break back in the following game after a missed smash by Murray, however he could not take advantage again.
It was down to Murray to serve for the set match, and Nadal was determined to not go out without a fight. The Spaniard saved match point and broke back to the delight of the home crowd.
Murray began going to back to work on the Nadal serve the following game, and after Nadal missed an overhead, it was once again match point Murray. This time there was no mistake from the Brit as he successfully closed out the match to make the Madrid Open final for the second year in a row.
Nadal, despite serving at 80%, did not take advantage of Murray’s low service percentage and went only 2/13 on break points. Overall, it came to the big points in which Murray was more clinical. The Brit also managed to fight off the crowd which were pro-Nadal.
“Yeah, I think I did well.” Murray said post match.
“Obviously crowd was getting into the match as well at those stages, too, so managed to hang tough there at important moments.
“He helped a bit in the last game. Obviously he missed a few mistakes, but wasn’t so much like that in the first set. Yeah, I thought I did good. Yeah, played well throughout the match.
“Even though when I served for it made a few mistakes, you know, I was still going for it. I felt like I was aggressive throughout. When I had to defend, I did that well, so it was good.”
The Spaniard said it was an open match, and that his level on the day was good.
“Murray was not unbeatable today.” Said Nadal.
“I think it was an open match, an even match. We fought a lot. At the end there were just a few decisive balls. Whoever plays those better is the one who wins the match.
“I think he did it, especially in the serve. As I said, here in Madrid you can see the difference a little bit more. Perhaps more than other places. That’s why he managed to obtain a lot of free points, especially in important moments.
“Well, of course I didn’t play my best level, but I didn’t play badly. I think I played a medium level, which was not enough to beat Murray today. Some moments I played very well and others, as I said before, I didn’t play so well. I just needed a little bit more and just needed to play a little bit better with my drive.
“That’s what I have to try to do next week. That’s all.”
Djokovic vs Nishikori:
The last match of the day featured Novak Djokovic against the sixth seed Kei Nishikori. The Japanese in search of his second final here, whilst the world number one was looking for a happy return for the Spanish capital.
Nishikori started on fire, hitting winners from both wings and earning triple break point- Djokovic survived. It was on the whole a competitive first set, but as many times in the past the Serbian managed to find the crucial break of serve.
The second started with early pressure from Djokovic. The Serb earned two break points but was unable to convert. He would have to wait until 2-2 to get the break of serve, and from there it looked academic.
Djokovic went on to a 5-4 40-0 lead, but he could not convert. Errors and double faults saw the 40-0 lead slip. Nishikori broke back and the set was level again- he wasn’t done yet.
The Japanese fought to a tiebreak, but just as any great champion, Djokovic managed to raise his level in the breaker to win in straight sets.
Djokovic advances to play Murray in Sundays final, but it didn’t go without a scare. The 5-4 game in the second set was the most memorable part, with Djokovic struggling to close it out.
“It happens. It happens.” He said on the 5-4 game
“The match can turn around very quickly. This was a real example of that. In sport things can happen. As much experience as you have in these moments, you know, again, this can occur.
“Especially if you’re playing somebody like Kei that has a lot of quality and is very aggressive and that jumps at first opportunity he has. That’s what he did. He started swinging freely. Started dictating the play a little bit more.
“I backed up because I got a little bit tight. We got to the tiebreak, and in the tiebreak I just kept my nerves together and kept fighting and played a very solid tiebreak.”
Nishikori feels he should have taken it to a third set, not that anyone would have minded in such an entertaining contest.
“I thought I had the third set.” Said Nishikori
“I started really well, I think. I was dictating a lot with my forehand and playing aggressive, played what I wanted.
“But just one game he played really well. He hits very deep. Maybe some of the shot I made some mistake, but only few shots. Maybe few points first set and also second set.
“Yeah, maybe I had to make some adjustment, but still, I played a good two sets. It is disappointing, but, you know, it’s not like losing 6-1, 6-1. I look forward to play next week.”
Nishikori moves on to Rome, but for Djokovic he still has one more hurdle to jump- Andy Murray. The pair meet again in a Masters final, but this time it’s on clay where the Brit has shown tremendous improvement over the past few years.
“Well, he has improved tremendously on clay the last couple years.” Added Djokovic.
“He won this tournament last year against Nadal and won against Nadal again today. Playing another finals of one of the biggest clay court tournaments in the world.
“We all know that clay was not his most preferred surface in the past, but he’s known to be a very hard worker, a guy who has lots of dedication, and is always trying to improve and get his game to another level.
“That’s what he has done. He gets the results. I think he’s moving better and sliding better on the court. He is more patient. He constructs the point better, which is very important for clay.
“Yes, last year we played that five-set match in semifinals of French Open, which was a high-quality matchup. So you know, again, depends really how we both start the match. I think that’s quite crucial for both of us.
“And we have very similar styles of the game. I’m sure that both of us will try to be protecting the baseline and try to be getting in the court and dictating.
“But it was the case in many previous matches we had against each other. Yeah, I’m expecting a big challenge.”