After entering the month of May with zero career final appearances in clay events, Andy Murray now has TWO CLAY TITLES in the span of just six days! What the heck happened?
Thanks to a relatively easy draw, Murray won Munich last Monday over Phil Kohlschreiber, a tough but winable finale. But then to destroy both of Madrid’s 2014 finalists this weekend like he did, culminating with yesterday’s 6-3, 6-2 romp over Rafael Nadal?
That’s pretty incredible, a run absolutely no one saw coming a week ago.
While Murray made a big move winning his biggest title in almost two years, the real story from Madrid was Rafa’s slump. So on to my thoughts on that and more.
1. Rafa back to square one?
I said in my final preview that win or lose it would be a positive week for both guys. I said that thinking no way Rafa would play one of the worst matches of his life in the final against Andy. Not with a Madrid title on the line, not after all the conjecture and questions of his demise leading into the event. Not after that beating he gave Tomas Berdych. And most certainly not in front of his home fans.
But for whatever reason, Rafa just didn’t answer the bell and that’s what happened – he played the worst clay match of his life. Credit to Andy, who slapped him silly, but a lot of guys would have beaten Rafa yesterday. A LOT!
So after a great performance over Berdych Saturday, it was just as bad of one against Murray. And now where is his confidence?
Back to square one.
2. What’s wrong with Rafa’s game?
- No depth of shot
- Weak second serve
The short balls and head-scratching errors will correct itself with confidence. The serve??? Confidence will help, but maybe a different racquet?
3. French Open favorites, Rafa’s prospects
To me, that Madrid result makes Novak Djokovic an even a stronger favorite to win the French. And I almost wonder if Novak really needs to play Rome this week to prove anything. He’s in perfect shape right now and probably wouldn’t want to lose the upper hand by having Rafa beat him in the final and allowing him to regain some of that lost mojo.
Novak’s goal is to win Paris. So best case for him is he wins Rome and Rafa loses badly early on, slumping further. However, losing to Nadal might be problematic down the road as Rafa would restore some confidence for Paris and for the next meeting with Novak.
Meanwhile, Rafa has to play well, and at least get to the final. Heck, even losing to Novak in the final (or Murray or Roger) would be a positive. But an early loss would really be crushing at this stage.
And as these losses pile up, that locker room aura Rafa’s enjoyed on the clay for so long continues to fade – Rafa has just two Top 10 wins and one singles title since the French. Could Nadal get clipped in the third round by a Kohlschreiber type? Or in the fourth by maybe Gael Monfils? We never thought that before, but now…
4. Is Rafa’s dominance over? Should those Rafa fans panic?
Short answer: YES!
That’s four clay losses already this year. Of course he can get it back. He can say the right things, like he’s still returning from injury, that he’s working out the kinks, that he the racquet change (or return back to the old racquet) threw off his game, that everyone has down periods, etc., but there’s no hiding from the fact he’s about to be 29 and he’s had a lot of tennis already under the belt. That’s an old 29, not a Tomas Berdych 29. Or a John Isner 29.
And looking back to last year, we saw the signs in Monte Carlo and Barcelona after curious losses to his countrymen in each event. Then he should have lost to Kei Nishikori in Madrid, and did lose to Djokovic in Rome. And Novak had him early on in Paris.
And now it’s clearly not getting any better for Rafa, it’s getting worse. That’s how Father Time does business.
5. Rafa’s ranking drop
There’s nothing wrong with your eyes, Rafa really is out of the Top 5 for the first time in a decade, now down to No. 7 after his Madrid title points rolled off. The good news is he can make that back this week – swapping last year’s Madrid win/Rome F for a Madrid F and Rome win – but the odds are awfully long that he’ll win this Rome title with Novak hanging around.
And if he doesn’t get back into the Top 4 before Paris I don’t see it as a big deal really other than cosmetic. Listen, he’ll likely have to face Novak sooner or later anyway, so is there a big difference in playing him quarters vs semis vs finals. I’m not sure.
The big disadvantage would be having to play three Big 3 guys en route to the title as opposed to just two if he were a Top 4 seed with them. So if he doesn’t get back into the Top 4, there’s a 75% chance he’d be projected to meet a Big 3 in the quarters.
That may not be a bad thing if he draws a Federer, who he can get some confidence before having to play a Murray and then Djokovic.
And as the TV commentators have said, this isn’t good news for Novak, Roger and Andy either. Do you think any of them want to face Rafa in the quarters?
6. Silver linings?
If you want to look for a silver linings, you could point to the fact Nadal played bad last spring also, losing early in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. And that he also should have lost in the Madrid final if not for an injury to Kei Nishikori.
Yet he still went on to win a ninth French Open, losing just two sets!
Also, Madrid is played at altitude. And there is still a few weeks to go before Paris, which, last I checked, is best-of-5. And where he’s 66-1 and Robin Soderling isn’t walking through that door and onto Chatrier anytime soon.
7. Marriage works!
I guess it does for Andy. For the Scot the French can’t begin soon enough. In fact, let’s just skip ahead and start Wimbledon right now because Murray’s confidence hasn’t been this high in almost two years. Why take a chance and lose the momentum playing Rome, just go right to Paris now!
That said, is he now a real, legitimate threat to win the French? I’m not sold yet. Let’s see how he backs it up in Rome because, like I said, a lot of yesterday had to do with Rafa just falling apart. And the Munich title, was “meh”.
But at least Murray’s got a Big 3 win and he should be a better player going forward.
As for Nadal, maybe Rafa should look into marrying Xisca?
There’s still time before Paris, and if nothing else is working…???
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