November 18, 2015
Rafa Nadal called it one of his best victories of the season – and few at the O2 Arena would have argued with that verdict after the Spaniard beat Andy Murray by an emphatic margin of 6-4, 6-1.
True, Murray may already have one eye on the Davis Cup final next week. But even without that possible distraction, it’s hard to see how Andy could have tamed a rampant Rafa in this kind of form.
The Brit was in front of his home crowd and broke Nadal in the very first game. Broken straight back, however, Murray seemed to become frustrated and began to talk to his box – often a bad sign. Before the Scot could replace irritation with fresh aggression, he was being edged out of the first set.
Nadal worked hard to get to the World Tour Finals and he wasn’t about to let his chance to impress pass him by. Rafa flew into a 3-0 second-set lead. And although Murray did at least manage to put a game on the board, he was broken again to fall 1-5 behind.
The final point was typical of the match. Murray was just trying to stay in the rally, played a safety-first slice and watched Nadal put his winner away with panache.
A delighted Nadal said afterwards: ‘First of all, thank you very much, London. I was playing against a local player but the crowd was still great. This is one of the best victories of the season for me, without any doubt. I think I played well in general.’
Rafa was happy to reveal what it takes to beat Murray these days – perhaps because it’s really no secret on the circuit. The top players just need to come up with more fight than Andy – and then he tends to crumble under sustained pressure.
Nadal explained: ‘The tactic against Andy is…play very well. He has all the shots so the way to damage him is to play with high intensity and to play aggressive.’
Not everyone has the combination of sublime skill and warrior spirit to do that. But more often than not, Djokovic, Federer and Nadal have been able to expose those frailties in Murray’s make-up.
Murray needs to beat Stan Wawrinka on Friday if he is to best protect his position as world number two, with Federer irresistible right now and threatening to take Andy’s place.
Of course, if Murray is able to lift the Davis Cup the weekend after next, that potential drop in ranking might just be a set-back he is able to bear. But pride is an interesting motivator. And we’ll see against Wawrinka – himself out of sorts against Nadal at the start of the week – just how much Murray really wants to make an impact at the World Tour finals.
Belgium is calling. Defeat against Wawrinka could be tough to take – but the consolation of a few extra days’ rest before the main event of Murray’s year, the Davis Cup final, would certainly soften the blow.
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