While Andy Murray’s struggles continued today in Madrid losing meekly to lucky loser Borna Coric, his top clay rivals, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, both played some of their best tennis of this young European season.
Earlier in the day, Djokovic took the court and manhandled Feliciano Lopez 6-4, 7-5. With Lopez unable to hurt Djokovic off the ground, it was all Djokovic who improved to 9-1 against the Spaniard. And it was Djokovic’s first straight set win of the clay season and, would you believe, his first in almost two months since beating Kyle Edmund at Indian Wells.
“The level was definitely very high today I thought from both of us,” said Djokovic. “I think Feliciano played really well, especially in the second set. I wasn’t winning too many points on his service games until the last one, when I managed to return a lot of balls back in play and then win the match.
“One break was enough. 5-4, 6-5, both sets. At the end, 5-5, 0-30, we had a couple of really long points. I was in trouble, and I managed to get my way out of it with some great gets.”
So clearly one on his best matches in months, and just in time because next for Novak is a date with Kei Nishikori who cruised past David Ferrer 6-4, 6-3.
Nadal was on the evening card in what was billed as the marquee match of the day. Early on it was competitive but was Nadal got a re-break to go up 4-2 in the first and it was over. Nadal rolled to a 6-3, 6-1 win and looked awfully sharp in the process.
“I think I served very well and committed very few errors. I think I made a step forward compared to yesterday. To be able to win 6-3, 6-1 is great news,” said Nadal. “It’s not normal to win against an opponent like this because Nick is a really good opponent.
“I think my backhand was good today and my forehand was there. I think I have some margin to do it even better tomorrow and step forward. Hopefully I will make it to the next round. Tomorrow is a day I have to be ready and give my best.”
Granted, Kyrgios didn’t offer up much but Nadal was cracking the forehand and also the backhand, and, most importantly, was hitting with depth! If Rafa can play like that…
Kyrgios really needs to learn some patience on the dirt, because run-and-gun won’t work against the best. But he sounds OK with it.
“I just haven’t been in the general gist of being a tennis player. I haven’t been training. I’ve just been doing nothing really,” said Kyrgios. “I won a couple rounds and lost to Rafa. I’m relatively happy with my first week on clay. But he played well tonight and was by far the better player.”
Sandwiched in between Djokovic and Nadal, was Murray. And the tough times continued for the former Madrid champion. Behind 28 errors to just 14 winners, Murray was hammered by Coric 6-3, 6-3.
Since his Dubai title, Murray’s gone just 5-4. Murray’s gameplan is to outwork opponents with his movement, strike when ready and pop the serve. Right now, he’s not doing anything. He’s making too many errors and, overall, he just isn’t threatening. And it’s hitting home.
“I definitely think I need to be concerned about today. It’s not always the worst thing losing a match, but it’s sometimes the manner of how you lose the match that can be concerning or disappointing,” said Murray. “I was disappointed to lose my match against Thiem in Barcelona, but felt like I competed really well and did some good stuff in the match. Today, I didn’t really do any of that. That’s concerning. So I need to think about exactly why that is, what I can do about it.
“Most things weren’t working particularly well. When I started to go behind, I didn’t find any way to improve my game or to make it more difficult for him. I just let the same things keep happening, making mistakes very early in a lot of the rallies. I wasn’t building any points,” he added. “That was disappointing because you’re not always going to play your best tennis, but you can still find ways to make it difficult for your opponent. I didn’t do that at all today.”
Thus far in the four biggest events he’s played this year – Australian Open, Indian Wells, Monte Carlo and Madrid – he has just FIVE wins.
Maybe Murray is burning out a little after his run to No. 1, but, like Novak, he’s coming up on his most important time of the year with a Rome title, French final and a Wimbledon title all ahead. He’s got to cut down on the mistakes, and fast!
In what was the match of the day, Dominic Thiem saved five matchpoints to deny hard-luck kid Grigor Dimitrov 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(9). Thiem was down a break in the second and in the third, and down 6-3 in the final set breaker, but overcame the odds to advance.
“I think it was a very good match from both of us,” said Thiem. “The tiebreak in the third set was amazing. It was 4-3 for him and I played two very good points. He made two unbelievable rallies. The tie-break is always a little bit luck, but I think it was a good match for both of us. That’s the bad thing about tennis, only one guy can win.”
For Dimitrov, it’s another tough, tough loss (and those tough losses are really piling up for the Bulgarian). It’s rare he wins one those kinds of matches.
Also, David Goffin blew out Milos Raonic 6-4, 6-2, Pablo Cuevas ousted Benoit Paire in three and next for the Uruguayan is Alexander Zverev who kept his run going beating up on Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-4. That’s seven straight wins for the German.
“Obviously today was a great match,” said Zverev. “But also the days before I played very well, against Marin yesterday and against Fernando in the first round. I’m happy to be in the quarterfinals here.”
So the quarterfinals are set to go tomorrow. Here are my picks and pans:
Novak Djokovic v Kei Nishikori: Djokovic leads 11-2 but based on form Nishikori has been better. Kei was also oh so close to winning this title a few years ago. But Djokovic has won 10 straight over Kei including in these semifinals last year, so I know Novak hasn’t been himself, but that’s a tough trend to go against, so I’ll take Novak in three.
David Goffin v Rafael Nadal: Rafa’s rolling again and while Goffin has the form and the firepower to match, if Nadal plays his game he wins. If he doesn’t, then David wins. That simple. Rafa in straights.
Borna Coric v Dominic Thiem: After losing in qualies to Mikhail Kukushkin, Coric hasn’t dropped a set in three wins culminating with his Murray victory today. But Thiem is clay-tough and I don’t think the Croat has enough to back up his first win over a No. 1.
Alexander Zverev v Pablo Cuevas: Cuevas is a clay court guy through and through. Zverev isn’t, though he’s on a hot streak and this week already has wins over Fernando Verdasco, Marin Cilic and today Berdych, all in straights. This one is tough, and I wonder if Zverev is getting a little tired, but I’m leaning the German in three.
So it looks like we’re headed to a Nadal-Djokovic semifinal and another Rafa title on Sunday? Rafa and Novak haven’t played in almost a year since Rome SFs!
FRIDAY MADRID SCHEDULE
MANOLO SANTANA start 12:00 pm
ATP –  K. Nishikori (JPN) vs  N. Djokovic (SRB)
Not Before 2:00 pm
WTA –  S. Halep (ROU) vs A. Sevastova (LAT)
Not Before 4:00 pm
ATP –  D. Goffin (BEL) vs  R. Nadal (ESP)
Not Before 8:00 pm
WTA – E. Bouchard (CAN) or  S. Kuznetsova (RUS) vs  K. Mladenovic (FRA)
Not Before 9:30 pm
ATP – [LL] B. Coric (CRO) vs  D. Thiem (AUT)
ARANTXA SANCHEZ VICARIO start 12:00 pm
ATP –  I. Dodig (CRO) / M. Granollers (ESP) vs  L. Kubot (POL) / M. Melo (BRA)
Not Before 2:30 pm
ATP – P. Cuevas (URU) vs A. Zverev (GER)
ATP –  J. Murray (GBR) / B. Soares (BRA) vs  N. Mahut (FRA) / E. Roger-Vasselin (FRA)
ATP –  H. Kontinen (FIN) / J. Peers (AUS) vs  F. Lopez (ESP) / M. Lopez (ESP)
ATP – N. Kyrgios (AUS) / J. Sock (USA) vs  B. Bryan (USA) / M. Bryan (USA)
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