Murray's glass ceiling (or is it brick wall?) - Rafael Nadal.
Rafael Nadal v Andy Murray - Wimbledon Quarter Final, 2nd July 2008,
After Murray's miraculous escape on Monday evening, it perhaps was too much to ask of him to assume the role of the underdog and again come out triumphant.
He went into the match having lost three times in three meetings with Nadal, but in fairness, he had led by two sets to one in the Australian Open in 2007. Since that point, however, he had lost the next six sets. Again it was Murray's serve percentages (49% first serves compared with Nadal's 62%) that let him down, preventing him from consistently taking early charge of the points against Nadal.
Every first serve miss must have left him quaking in his shoes as Nadal stepped in to punish any second serve that was not agressively struck to a corner of the service box. Nadal asked all the questions of Murray's game that Gasquet had in the first two sublime sets on Monday. He dominated almost every point as soon as anything weak, sliced or half court came his way, typically taking just two further thumps to win the point outright. He served better than Murray and had greater penetration on his drives, driving to wider angles than seemed possible, due simply to immense topspin combined with fantastic footwork. Murray was rushed on almost every one of Nadal's brutal drives, making him, like many others before him hit long and miss wide. The bucking nature of Nadal's groundstrokes played with topspin are sufficiently different from almost any other shot on the professional tennis circuit that they force many errors from his opponents. The errors look almost like misjudgements of aim from his classy opponents, but just like he embarrassed so many at the French Open making them marginally late hitting the ball, this was also Murray's undoing.
One has to be objective here, as Nadal puts such pressure on his opponents that they are forced to hit to the extremities of the court in order to have any chance of working him out of position, so being conservative with their ball placement will only lead to Nadal winning the point in any case.
The second story of the match was Nadal's supreme control of points when he served, winning 88% of first serve points and an astonishing 80% of second serve points. This showed that Murray's first strike when receiving second serves was below the standard required. To communicate this deficiency, a usual percentage of second serve points won by a winning player is 48-53%, showing just how vital a high percentage of first serves is.
It was just in the third set that Nadal's game ebbed a little. However, Murray was already so brow-beaten by this stage that he failed even then to create one break point opportunity.
Nadal won in such a fashion with controlled aggression and supreme power that it is difficult to imagine anyone but Federer will have an answer to it. My belief is that even Federer cannot match Nadal's game on grass this year, such is Nadal's current form.
It is perhaps due to Nadal's homegrown style, having always been coached by Uncle Toni (whose coaching credentials I have no knowledge of) that allows him this immense topspin. He attacks the back of the ball with such ferocity using forces generated by his huge arms and light powerful racquet, yet appears regularly not to transfer his body weight fully through the ball. This must put more strain on his body in the sense of the effort needed to hit the ball, but critically leaves him more balanced having completed the shot to run anywhere. Also, his uncle's advice to play left-handed in order to have his right hand strengthen his backhand may have been a masterful piece of advice, such is Nadal's ability to defend with attacking strokes when driven deep to his backhand side. A description of his athletic prowess could be paragraphs long. Instead, I would implore anybody who has not seen Rafael Nadal play tennis, to turn on the tube and watch. I strongly suspect that he will be playing on Sunday in the Wimbledon final, most probably against Roger Federer.
At the end of the match it was a shame that Nadal didn't flex his considerably larger biceps to communicate to Murray that he had come up against a man sized opponent in the strength and fitness department. However, Nadal is just too professional to play at one-upmanship to Murray's gesture. Instead he will continue to wear shirts cut off at the shoulders so no one is left in doubt as to his physical qualities.
Murray clearly has made strides at this Wimbledon, but will probably get to work on his serve and service return if he is to learn the lessons of why he is currently a 'nearly-man' at Grand Slam level, rather than the winner that he appears to have the potential to be. Meanwhile, Andy Murray's older brother Jamie progressed to the semi final of the mixed. It is a good job that Nadal doesn't find a partner to enter that draw.
Score: 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in1hr 55 mins
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