Andy Murray, Rafa Nadal, Kei Nishikori and Novak Djokovic. These are the names of the four semi-finalists in the ATP draw at the 2016 Mutua Madrid Open. After a thrilling day’s play on Friday at the Caja Mágica, the men’s competition has been whittled down to four players who will contest a place in the final on the Manolo Santana Stadium on Saturday. Murray will take on Nadal in a repeat of last year’s final at 1pm, while Nishikori and Djokovic will bring the day to a close in the last game of the day at 8pm.
On Friday, Murray beat Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-2 in the opening match on centre court in just an hour and 16 minutes. In his post-match press conference, the world number two responded to a request to assess his match-up with Nadal by saying he believed he was playing better tennis than this time last year. “It’s true that Rafa is playing better now but I’ve improved aspects of my game. That’s what it’s all about: to keep improving.”
Nadal started his match against Joao Sousa in ruthless fashion, claiming the first set 6-0, but the Portuguese world number 35 hit back to take the second 6-4, forcing a decider that the Spaniard claimed 6-3 to set up his last-four clash with Murray. As well as the solidity on court displayed by Nadal in many moments during the game, the rain also took centre stage and the roof on Manolo Santana had to be closed halfway through the match. In the press room after the game, Nadal noted: “I played very well in the first set but later the balls became very heavy because of the rain and I had to battle to find a solution.”
On the other side of the draw in a match that thrilled spectators on the Arantxa Sánchez Vicario show court, Kei Nishikori and Nick Kyrgios left everything on the crushed brick. Nishikori, the sixth seed, eventually claimed victory 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 after two hours and 38 minutes of hammer and tongs tennis. Speaking after the match, Nishikori praised his opponent’s performance and also highlighted his own resilience in finally overcoming Kyrgios’ challenge.
In the final match of the day on Manolo Santana, world number one Novak Djokovic lived up to pre-match predictions in dispatching big-serving Milos Raonic in two sets, 6-3, 6-4. Djokovic’s win capped an exciting day’s play on Friday and set the scene for another memorable round of matches in the Caja Mágica on Saturday.