Last year’s champion has taken a giant step towards defending his crown. Andy Murray booked his place in the final at the Mutua Madrid Open after beating Rafael Nadal (7-5, 6-4) to reach the decider in the Caja Mágica for the second season on the trot, giving himself a chance to hold on to his title in the Spanish capital, something that only the Mallorcan has achieved before, and to continue to gain confidence on the surface.
“Last year Rafa hadn’t been playing as well coming into the match”, said the Scot when asked to compare his 2015 and 2016 ties with the Manacor native in Madrid. “This time he had Monte-Carlo and Barcelona and some pretty comfortable wins here until yesterday. Maybe he lost a little bit of his timing there, but the rest of the matches he played here were fairly comfortable”.
The world number two, who will maintain his position in the ATP ranking if he lifts the trophy in Madrid, went up against an opponent with 13 consecutive victories behind him in Nadal and spoke of the challenge all players face when taking on the Spaniard on his favourite surface: “I think it was a better win for me this year than last year. You know, I didn’t think he played his best match in the final last year. Not saying he played his best tennis today, but I think he played better than last year,” Murray said. “Not loads of players have won against Rafa on clay throughout his career. Very few in the last year for sure when he wasn’t playing his best. To beat him in Spain on a clay court is obviously a big, big challenge for any player, so I’m very pleased to have beaten him this year.”
Looking ahead positively to the rest of the clay season, Murray added that his victory was a source of further motivation. “It’s a big, big step for me from where I was four or five weeks ago. I’m going back in the right direction again.”
Of his opponent in Sunday’s final, the defending champion explained the main difference would be the way the ball comes back over the net at him, whether it be Novak Djokovic or Kei Nishikori on the end of it: “I think the challenge from yesterday to today is playing a right-hander who hits the ball extremely flat. Today I played a left-hander with lots of spin. Tomorrow it’s back to a right-hander again. Both guys hit the ball much flatter than Rafa, so it’s different. I’ll need to make adjustments again tomorrow. I’ll obviously enjoy the win today, but you have prepare as best you can for tomorrow’s match and try and defend the title.”