Having lost to Novak Djokovic in six of the 10 finals and beaten British No.1 Andy Murray in the last five matches, Nadal must have thought it would be yet another day in the post-tsunami Japan bringing in yet another victory over the world No. 4.
How Murray lost the first set of the Japan Open Finals today is a no-brainer: the same defensive Murray putting the ball back in and failing to dish out winners. Nadal kept thundering down winners after winners, while Murray struggled with his first serve.
But something changed in the second set. Murray seemed to have told himself not to make the same mistakes and expect different results. No wonder his defense tactics got the better of Nadal as the rallies dragged on. He kept returning the balls while inching closer to the net. Whenever he stepped inside the baseline aggressively, Nadal had to be at his best to win points. But that became difficult once Murray got a break in the fourth game of the second set. Murray decided to stick to the rallies and not be bothered by Nadal’s usually powerful returns and winners. He stayed aggressive and kept returning until he found a chance to hit a winner or forced Nadal to make a mistake.
Murray simply walked through the same doors that Djokovic opened by beating Nadal many times over. Never get tired of the long rallies, keep going aggressively, and win the points whenever you get a chance. In fact, Nadal’s groundstrokes seemed a tad slower than usual giving Murray enough room to hit winners, especially in the third set. In fact, it was the second set that helped Murray redesign his gameplan and in the third, it was all about gliding along with the momentum. By then, Nadal’s top gear had deserted him.
What does it mean for Nadal in a larger sense and how does it change the equation as far as the Fabulous Four go? I think it’s the beginning of the end of easy semis over Murray. It’s the beginning of another rivalry even before Nadal has resolved a crisis called “Novak Djokovic.”
(For more articles on tennis, visit ‘Racquet Science’ category).