Rafael Nadal will get a chance for revenge over Andy Murray when the pair meet in the semifinals of the Madrid Open on Saturday. The match is a repeat of last year’s final at the Masters 1000 event in the Spanish capital, when Murray got the better of Nadal for the first time on a clay court to land the title.
That defeat was just one of the many low points in a desperately disappointing clay-court season for Nadal last year. For the first time since he was just 17-years-old, the nine-time French Open champion went into the French Open without having won a clay title. And at Roland Garros, Nadal relinquished his grasp on the trophy after a humbling straight-sets defeat to Novak Djokovic.
That poor form extended throughout much of 2015 and into the start of this year. But since getting back on the European clay last month, the 29-year-old has begun to rediscover his old form. After winning titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, Nadal has made it 13 straight wins to begin the clay-court season in Madrid.
On Friday, the Spaniard dropped his first set of the tournament when Joao Sousa emerged from a rain break to bounce back after Nadal had taken the first set 6-0. Still, the man who has won three titles in Madrid since it became a clay-court event in 2009, hit back to claim the final set 6-3 and book a meeting with a familiar opponent.
“We know each other very well,” Nadal said afterward. “It's a question of playing my best, and if I am playing my best, I hope to have my chances. If not, it will be almost impossible.
“Andy played the semifinals in Monte-Carlo winning good matches, and was close to beating me in the semi-finals. Last year he won here, so he knows how to play very well here. That's a great level that he's playing. He's a player that can win against everybody. I know it's going to be a very hard match for me, but I am going to be fighting.”
Nadal has won 17 of their 23 meetings, including the most recent one just three weeks ago, when he overcame the loss of the opening set to progress. But Murray still did enough to illustrate that, since that win in Madrid 12 months ago, he has become a much greater threat on the clay-court surface.
On Friday, he produced one of his best clay-court performances ever, particularly on serve, to brush aside the challenge of world No. 8 Tomas Berdych 6-3 6-2. And the world No. 2 believes he is now ready for the challenge of taking on Nadal on his favorite surface.
“You prepare to play against the best clay court player of all time and get yourself ready for that challenge mentally,” he told BBC Sport. “I practiced with him in Mallorca for a few days, which was good. It's great practice, but you can see some things, as well.”
Prediction: Murray played superbly to take the first set off Nadal in the semifinals of Monte Carlo, and if he can replicate that level over the course of three sets then is certainly capable of taking out the “King of Clay.” However, it is incredibly difficult to retain that level against Nadal in the confident mood he has been in the past few weeks. It should be tight, but Nadal should eventually start to step in and dictate to take the win.
Predicted score: Nadal in straight sets
Match time: Not before 7 a.m. EDT
TV channel: Tennis Channel
Live stream: Tennis Channel Everywhere