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French Open: Nadal brushes past Andy Murray

Andy Murray holds his head in his hands after being beaten in straight sets by Rafael Nadal in the French Open semi-final. Picture: Getty

Andy Murray holds his head in his hands after being beaten in straight sets by Rafael Nadal in the French Open semi-final. Picture: Getty

  • by ALIX RAMSAY
 

Andy Murray looked crushed. He had just taken a thrashing at the hands of Rafael Nadal, a pasting the like of which he has not had to endure since he was a rookie on the tour.

It was as comprehensive as it was brutal: in just 100 clinical minutes, Nadal had dismissed Murray from Roland Garros, removed him from the Court Philippe Chatrier as he would remove a speck of fluff from his sleeve. And Murray looked as if he could not bear it.

“It was a tough day for me,” Murray said quietly. “It was a bad, bad day.”

The 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 battering was the harshest defeat Murray had suffered at a grand slam since Juan Ignacio Chela clobbered him 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the Australian Open in 2006. But back then, Murray was just 18 and ranked No 62 in the world. Eight years and two grand slam titles on, Murray believed he had a chance against Nadal. He had played him last month in Rome and given the Spaniard an almighty scare; with that experience behind him, he thought he knew how to attack the defending champion. And then Nadal started to play and any tactics or game plan were blown away.

“I played a very good match against him in Rome,” Murray said. “I played a tactically very good match against him in Rome. But, again, you can go out there with all the tactics in the world but when he’s hitting the ball like that, it’s very difficult to hit the ball where you want to.

“His shot was bouncing incredibly high. It was very difficult to do much with the ball. Then when I did have the opportunity, I wanted to make a winner or make him run too much, trying to hit too close to the lines, and end up making a lot of mistakes.

“He served well and I didn’t return well. Simple. He served very close to the lines. The ball was coming through the court quicker today. My timing was off on the returns. It is also easy to just sort of say, Oh, you know, he served well and I missed quite a lot of returns. But the problem is if you don’t do anything with the return. He was just battering the next ball into the corner. So you need to try and do something with his return. And maybe I was going for a bit too much. Then when I missed a couple in a row I would get a bit tentative.”

The raw statistics of the match made for painful reading. Nadal had six break points and converted them all; Murray did not have one. Nadal won almost twice as many points as the Scot – 83 to 43 – and he dropped just ten points on serve throughout the match. And two of those points were double faults. Murray, who has one of the best return games in the business, could only convert four of 45 first serve return points. There was not one aspect of his game that Murray could look at and take some shred of comfort from – he was bullied and bossed in all three sets.

To be fair to the Wimbledon champion, Nadal was as ruthless as he was impressive. His serve was vindictive and his forehand was positively vicious. If he plays like that against Novak Djokovic on Sunday – and Djokovic plays the way he did against Ernests Gulbis yesterday – a ninth French Open trophy is his for the taking.

But on the other side of the net, Murray had little to offer either physically or tactically. He had not played a full five sets since Wimbledon last summer and then this past week, he played two five-setters in the space of five days. As he set to work yesterday, he looked stiff and tired. His first serve was regularly tapped in at under 100mph and then he stood flat-footed as Nadal crunched another forehand winner past him. By the time he had shaken off the stiffness from his muscles, he realised there was precious little fuel left in the tank. No amount of off-court training can make up for matches and until he got to Roland Garros he had not played that many back-to-back matches since he returned from his back surgery.

Even so, Murray was still not sure whether his inability to put up a fight was due to a lack of physical strength or tactical nous. In short, he did not know what had just hit him and he was still reeling.

I don’t know, to be honest,” he said simply. “If it was [physical], I’ve only got myself to blame, because I was in control of a lot of the matches that went longer than maybe they should have. So if that did have anything to do with it, it was completely my fault. But, ideally, playing against him on this surface, the way he’s hitting the ball today, you have to do a lot of running, chase a lot of balls down. I couldn’t get enough back. That’s why I’m disappointed, because you want to be competitive. You want to make it hard for him. I wasn’t able to do that.”

After a defeat as heavy as that, Murray would love to be able to run away and hide his head under the duvet in an attempt to wipe the whole, sorry day from his memory. But at this time of year, he has no time for self-pity: the Aegon Championships start at Queen’s Club on Monday and he has a title to defend. And then there is the small matter of Wimbledon to deal with in just over a fortnight’s time.

So Murray will force himself to relive the miserable 100 minutes of yesterday and try to learn from it.

“In my view, you need to try and learn from it and realise what exactly went wrong on my side of the net,” he said.

“You can’t always control how well your opponent plays, but on my side of the net obviously I can think about a few things.

“Then you look at a tournament as a whole. Like I said, there were a few too many sets this week in the matches where I was up. I could have finished sets quicker, could have finished matches quicker. As I said, I only have myself to blame for that. That’s something during the grass and over the next few months I’ll definitely need to work on: not letting guys back in when I’ve got the match won. That’s something that Rafa has obviously done incredibly well, especially here.”

He did it especially well yesterday and a weary-looking Murray suffered the consequences. Between now and Wimbledon, the Scot has to find a way to make sure that Nadal never gets the chance to do that to him again.

 

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