ANDY Murray should have got married years ago.
The effect that tying the knot with Kim Sears has had on his clay court game has been nothing short of remarkable and last night, after he demolished Rafael Nadal in the Mutua Madrid Open final, he scribbled “marriage works” on the TV camera lens by the side of the court.
Since Ms Sears became Mrs Murray, her husband has not lost on the red clay but even if she is his greatest supporter, Mrs M must have been surprised at the way her beloved took Nadal apart 6-3, 6-2 yesterday. Murray was brilliant; he was ruthless, he was aggressive but, basically, he was just brilliant from start to finish. Nadal could not touch him and, for once, the Spaniard knew what it felt like to be on the receiving end of a clay court thrashing.
“A lot of people have told me there’s a sort of honeymoon period when you get married,” Murray said, “and then it gets harder after that but we’ve been together a very long time and obviously getting married was the next step. And the tennis has gone well since then. I’ve always said that when the personal stuff and your private life is under control and you’re happy, that helps on the court as well.
“But also this year I feel healthy – I’ve been training very well with my team. I have to thank my team for getting me in this condition for the clay. In the past I’ve struggled with my back and haven’t been able to train like this. This is the first time I’ve had a ten-day, two-week training block of training before the clay season. So I have to thank them as well as Kim.”
Admittedly, Nadal was not at his blistering best – he has not been that all year – but even so, he was never given a chance to try. Murray kept him pinned back by the sheer force and depth of his ground strokes and just by the relentless pressure. Murray never let up for a moment and even though he was playing the greatest clay court player in history, and playing him on home turf, the Scot never faltered or wavered for a moment.
The great Manolo Santana, Spain’s tennis hero until the advent of Nadal, sat and watched as Murray ruined his birthday and won the title. He could only congratulate the new champion and announce that “it was the greatest match I’ve ever seen you play on clay”.
Until this week, Murray had only ever beaten one top ten player on the red dirt – Nikolay Davydenko back in 2009. But this week he has beaten Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and, the greatest scalp of all, Nadal. And he has got better with every name he has taken down.
In front of Queen Sofia, Murray did the unthinkable and made Nadal look timid on clay. Stepping into the court, taking on every ball and hitting deep and strong, the world No 3 began as he meant to go on. It took Nadal five minutes to get a point on the board and 14 minutes to get a game. And even when Nadal relaxed a little and started to play better, Murray just upped the ante, played harder, more aggressively and dismissed the king of the red courts.
The harder Nadal tried, the more aggressive Murray became. After he thrashed Nishikori on Saturday, the Japanese kept shaking his head and saying that he did not know what to expect next from the Scot – every ball was different. So it was with Nadal – Murray hit with power, he hit with spin, he made the ball fizz, he made it kick. By the end, Nadal did not know what to do next.
So now Nadal will leave his homeland with a world ranking of No 7, the first time he has been outside the world’s top five in a decade while Murray will go to Rome today and then decide whether he will play there or not. The French Open and Wimbledon are coming up fast and now that he has cracked the conundrum of winning on clay, he wants to make sure he is refreshed and rested for the bigger challenges coming up. Beating Nadal in Madrid is just the beginning.