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Suddenly, Andy Murray is a master of clay courts after Madrid Masters

By Paul Newman

The idea of Andy Murray going into the French Open as one of the favourites might have seemed fanciful less than a week ago but the Scot will head to Roland Garros next week as a player to be feared by everyone after recording one of the best victories of his career.

Just six days after winning his first title on clay, Murray claimed his second last night by beating Rafael Nadal, the greatest player in history on this surface, to win the Madrid Masters.

Murray's 6-3 6-2 victory was his first in his seven meetings with Nadal on clay and brought him his first Masters Series title since he underwent back surgery nearly two years ago. It was the world No 3's second Madrid title after he won his first seven years ago, when the tournament was played on indoor hard courts.

Murray's turnaround on clay, a surface on which he has sometimes looked uncomfortable, has been astonishing. He had never even played in a clay-court final until he won in Munich a week ago and has now added a victory in one of the biggest tests leading into the French Open, which starts in 13 days' time.

Murray is the only player on the men's tour to have won two clay-court titles this year.

Since returning to competition following his wedding last month, Murray is unbeaten. Having claimed only his sixth win in his 21 meetings with Nadal and his first over the Spaniard for four years, the Scot wrote on the camera lens at the end of the match: "Marriage works".

His elation was in contrast to Nadal's disappointment. The Spaniard, who was aiming for a third successive Madrid title, has been struggling for form since winning the French Open for a ninth time last summer. This was his heaviest defeat on clay for 11 years.

If he fails to take the title at the Rome Masters this week, Nadal will head to Roland Garros without having won a build-up tournament in the European clay-court season for the first time since 2004. This latest setback will see him drop today to No 7 in the world rankings, his lowest position for 10 years.

Nadal, who had shown his best tennis of the year to beat Tomas Berdych in the semi-finals, played poorly in the final, making far too many mistakes, though much of that was down to the pressure applied by Murray. The Scot served so well and hit his returns so sweetly that he rarely had to do anything out of the ordinary to win points.

Murray settled into his stride immediately, winning 12 of the first 14 points to race into a 3-0 lead. Although he had to save break points when he served at 4-2 and 5-3, the Scot never looked in difficulty. On his first set point Murray cracked a big backhand down the line which Nadal was unable to return.

As Murray's confidence grew, Nadal's level dipped. Murray went 4-0 up in the second set before Nadal finally saved face by holding serve twice. Murray served out for victory after just 88 minutes, helped by two woeful forehand errors by his opponent on the last two points.

Murray said afterwards: "I played extremely well, which I think was one of the reasons why he was mistiming a few shots, especially towards the end of the match. I couldn't have done much more."

Murray said his Madrid success would give him confidence going into Roland Garros.

However, he added: "By no means did I feel like I would go into the French Open as one of the favourites, but if I play like that I will give myself an opportunity."

Belfast Telegraph


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