Rafael Nadal moved a step closer to once again defending his title at the Rome Masters with an epic 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 win over Andy Murray on Friday.
The Spanish star has won this event seven times in his career and is now two wins away from his eighth after moving onto the semifinals. He will face Grigor Dimitrov in the next round after the Bulgarian defeated Tommy Haas in the quarterfinals.
This was truly an incredibly contest from start to finish. Murray was dominant at the beginning of the match, allowing Nadal to win just one game in an easily won first set. Neil Harman of The Times discussed the strong play in the first set:
A pleasure to see Murray playing like this. Freedom, control, middling ball. 6-1 first set against Nadal. Loving the clay.— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) May 16, 2014
Meanwhile, Darren Cahill of ProTennisCoach.com noted the specific strategy of Murray early on:
Andy controlled just about every point. Getting good looks & finding Rafa's b/hand more than normal. Murray also aggressive with his b/hand.— Darren Cahill (@darren_cahill) May 16, 2014
Nadal finally got a lead to start off the second set and was doing whatever it took to turn things around, via Sports Illustrated:
Huge hold from Nadal to start the set. Vamosing like crazy to get himself going.— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) May 16, 2014
The favorite then continued his strong performance in the second set, thanks in part to his impressive play at the net, according to Steve Tignor of Tennis.com:
Rafael Nadal, 12/12 at net, comes back to win 2nd set from Andy Murray 6-3. Starting 3rd now. #RomeMasters— Steve Tignor (@SteveTignor) May 16, 2014
It seemed like the only thing that could slow him down was rain, which started to come down and affect both players. Then again, it just created an exciting atmosphere in the final set, which ESPN's Chris Fowler was ready for:
Nadal got the early lead, but Murray quickly rallied, as noted by Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times:
Murray clawing himself back into this after going down a break in the third. Playing with a nothing-to-lose-ness I've rarely seen from him.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) May 16, 2014
The top seed came out with the win thanks to some mental strength, according to Tennis Now:
A work of perseverance to be sure. Nadal fights off Andy Murray to reach the Rome semi, 1-6, 6-3, 7-5. Amazing heart and soul victory.— TennisNow (@Tennis_Now) May 16, 2014
Despite the loss, Murray should be proud of his effort. While most men fear a match against Nadal on a clay court, Murray was actually excited to face the No. 1 player in the world. According to Paul Newman of The Independent, the No. 7 seed explained:
With the French Open and Wimbledon coming up it's not a bad thing for me to play against Nadal because I haven't played him for about three years. I've hardly practised with him either. I used to practise with him quite a lot.
I would actually be quite interested to play against him to see how his game has changed and also see the things I can do to make it difficult for him. I'm also sure there will be things that won't work against him that I'll need to change as well, so it might be better for me to play against him now rather than in the French or at Wimbledon.
Although he was unable to pull out a win, he hopefully gained some necessary experience heading into the bigger tournaments. He will now try to use what he learned in the Grand Slam tournaments in the coming months.
On the other hand, Nadal will continue in the Rome Masters in an attempt to win yet another title. While Dimitrov has one of the better serves in the world, the Spanish star should be able to use his great defensive ability to remain on top.
Having the confidence to succeed after winning a tough match against Murray will only make things easier for Nadal.
If he can keep this up and win the tournament, he should once again go into Roland Garros as the overwhelming favorite, with few players having any chance to beat him.
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