Another weekend, another clay court semi-final – Andy Murray is beginning to make a habit of this. Unbeaten since he stepped on to the slow red dirt seven matches ago, he eased past Milos Raonic last night to reach the final four of the Mutua Madrid Open.
The tall Canadian is one of the few men to have a winning record over Murray (the others tend to be of the calibre of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic) but he arrived in town with a sore foot.
He had not played in more than two weeks as he struggled with a metatarsal problem and last night he was trying to do the impossible: beat the world No 3 on one leg. As a tactic, it did not work – Murray won 6-4, 7-5.
Raonic had not dropped serve all week and yet Murray broke him twice. Had he managed to keep the ball away from Raonic’s forehand a little more often, he might have broken a few more times, too.
Whenever Murray threw in a drop shot, the hobbled Canadian was toast. It was just the sort of performance that the Scot wanted before he takes on David Ferrer or Kei Nishikori today.
It was a straightforward evening for Murray after he suffered at the hands of the schedulers earlier in the week, prompting him to call on the ATP to rewrite their rule book over late-night starts.
On Wednesday night, he waited for his opening match against Philipp Kohlschreiber to begin. And he waited. And waited. The schedule, drawn up to placate the television companies, the sponsors, the ticket holders and the big names of both the men’s and women’s tours, placed his match as the last of six on the main court.
As every match dragged on and on, he did not get on court until after 1am on Thursday and did not finish until 3am. Just a few hours later, he was back on court for his third round match. Unsurprisingly, he does not want that to happen again.
At the Australian Open, a rule was introduced in 2008 to stop matches being called to court after 11pm. It came in response to Bobby Reynolds and Andreas Seppi slugging it out in the first round until 3:34am the previous year. But not even that is good enough for Murray – he wants the ATP to investigate further the optimum cut-off point, the time when elite athletes should not be called upon to play, rather than just impose an arbitrary rule.
“I don’t know many sports that play after midnight really at all,” said Murray. “I love watching boxing and they fight late, but never at one in the morning. That’s where I do think you can get the right people involved and speak to doctors and people that understand the body and how it works for athletes and say, ‘Look, it’s actually not possible to compete at your peak condition past whatever time it is’, and then make a decision based on that, rather than just saying, ‘Oh, you know, midnight or 11:00’.”
Once the schedule had been set, it appeared to be impossible to alter it. The women’s match before his limped slowly on into a third set while the clock ticked towards midnight. The logical move would have been to start Murray’s match on another court.
“That probably would have made good sense, yeah,” he said with a wry smile. “We spoke a little bit about it, but no one came to see us until midnight. So that’s how the situation was handled.”
Nadal has not had to play any night matches this week and yesterday he survived his first real test in Madrid by overcoming Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 6-4 to reach the semi-finals. It was not Nadal at his best but serving well when he had to and relying on his backhand, he found a way past a clearly nervous Dimitrov.
As he tries desperately to put his game back together after a poor start to the year, Nadal has made slow but definite progress this week.
His forehand is still misfiring alarmingly but he puts that down to the balls flying because of the altitude and thinner air in Madrid. Overall, he is a lot happier now than he was at the start of the week.
“I recover my game,” he said simply. If he is right, he may have recovered it in the nick of time – there is only a fortnight to go before he begins the defence of his French Open title.