Is it Jonas Bjorkman? Is it the married life? Or is it something else? Who knows, but whatever it is, it’s been working the last two weeks for Andy Murray. After winning his first clay title Monday in Munich, Murray is now into his second clay final, this one at the Masters level where he’ll face Rafael Nadal tomorrow in the King of Clay’s backyard in Madrid.
Nadal began semifinal Saturday showing signs of old Rafa in dismantling a very hot and very tough Tomas Berdych 7-6(3), 6-1. Berdych, who still has yet to beat Nadal on clay, had a few chances early on in the match, but otherwise never really got Nadal out of his comfort zone as Rafa pounded away with that lethal forehand. It was one of Nadal’s best matches of the season, and he got added revenge for Australia.
“For the past couple of days I have been playing better and better every day,” said Nadal who will seek a fifth Madrid title Sunday. “That’s always very good news. I am in the final. I am happy for that. I am enjoying a lot the fact that I am playing in front of an unbelievable crowd. For me, that’s the best crowd in the world without any doubt. So that gives me a lot of really positive energy.
“Today I played at a very, very high level. Let’s see tomorrow if I am able to continue with that positive feeling. This week has been fantastic for me. This is a very important result, and that’s confidence, that’s positive energy. That’s calm, too. Let’s try to continue tomorrow and try to continue with that good feeling next week. I worked a lot to have that feeling, and today I had that feeling that I’ve been trying to find for a while.”
After a horrendous Barcelona and poor effort against Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo, Nadal has lived up to the expectations this week in Madrid.
Meanwhile, there weren’t much in the way of expectations for Murray, who came late to the event after having won a rainy Munich title on Monday. Then he had to deal with a system-jarring 3am finish Wednesday, but since hasn’t dropped a set including an impressive victory today over 2014 finalist Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-4.
“This year and in the off-season I put in a lot of hard work on my game and made a few changes and tried to get back to playing the way that I was playing when I was my most successful,” said Murray. “I think today I was pretty aggressive. I tried to dictate a lot of the points, especially when he was serving, and it worked well.”
Murray had never made a clay final until Munich. Now two in one week! Now you could say in Munich he didn’t beat anyone of top quality, and Milos Raonic was hobbled yesterday, but Nishikori was well in form and had beaten the Scot in London last fall.
Against Rafa, Murray is just 5-15 and like Berdych today, has never beaten him on the clay (0-6). And remember, since returning from surgery at the start of last year, Murray has yet to beat a Big 3 guy. So Andy’s got a few demons to deal with.
“Against Rafa it is going to be extremely difficult, especially playing here in Spain,” said Murray who is 9-0 this year on clay. “I think he’s played very well this week, too. Hopefully I can put in a good performance and make it tough for him and see what happens.”
I think Murray will put up a good performance. And he could make a mark if he goes on the offensive and plays forward tennis, attacking Rafa’s serve. But it’s hard to see Rafa losing to Andy with so much on the line and with that forehand now firing again.
Rafa will be nervous and he’s struggled with confidence, we know, however in front of his fans I don’t think he’ll let this one slip. Win or lose, it’s been a positive week for both guys.
The pick: Rafa in two
MADRID SUNDAY SCHEDULE
MANOLO SANTANA Start Not Before 4:00 pm
R. Bopanna (IND) / F. Mergea (ROU) vs  M. Matkowski (POL) / N. Zimonjic (SRB)
 R. Nadal (ESP) vs  A. Murray (GBR)
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