THE big question is: can Andy Murray beat the man who beat Rafael Nadal on clay?
Just 12 days ago, Nicolas Almagro had the nerve and the guile to do for Nadal at the Barcelona Open and today he faces Murray (pictured) in the second round of the Mutua Madrid Open. Admittedly, this season has not been Nadal’s best – the clay court swing is a month old and he has yet to get his hands on a piece of silverware. He still had to be beaten, though, and Almagro managed it for the first time in his career and at the 11th time of asking.
“Is a different match for sure to play Andy,” Almagro said. “To play against Rafa is a really, really exciting match but tomorrow will be really different. But if I need to take a surface to play against Andy, I prefer to play on clay and in Spain with all my supporters, with everything here is perfect to play against Andy.”
Murray has prepared long and hard for today. Since playing in the Davis Cup tie in Naples at the beginning of April, he has been training and practising in London, Paris and Valencia to get as much court time on the clay as he can.
“I practised a bit on the clay courts at Wimbledon,” Murray said. “Practised with quite a few of the doubles guys: Ross [Hutchins] and Colin [Fleming]; practised with my brother and Jamie Delgado and John Peers a little bit. Then headed over to Valencia to start practising. I practised with Andujar, Battista, Ferrer a little bit. Donskoy. So some good guys to practise with there in perfect conditions.”
Almagro needed 11 match points to beat Andrey Golubev 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 yesterday and seemed to struggle with a foot injury. He has only played the Scot four times with his sole win coming on clay at Roland Garros but that was six years ago.
If Murray can push on to the quarter-finals, he will find the draw has opened up invitingly. Roger Federer, his scheduled opponent in the last eight, withdrew yesterday to stay at home with his wife, Mirka, who is due to give birth to their third child. Federer’s place was taken by world No 78 Lukasz Kubot.