Ruthless Rafael Nadal makes short work of Andy Murray
Scot outclassed in straight sets as world number one books a final clash with Novak Djokovic
Andy Murray reacts during his men’s semi-final against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros in Paris, France. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Rafael Nadal walked all over Andy Murray in the blazing sun yesterday on his way to tomorrow’s final of the French Open, where he must beat Novak Djokovic to win his ninth title and remain No1 in the world. It is no less than he deserves.
The Spaniard was so superb for so long that the scoreline of 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 was not only an embarrassment to the loser but suggested that, had they played a fourth set, the symmetry would have continued all the way to zero for Murray.
The exercise detained the champion for an hour and 40 minutes, ridiculously short for the semi-final of any tournament and, statistically, Murray’s worst beating in a Slam.
“That’s the toughest match I’ve played against him,” Murray admitted. “I was very disappointed with how that match ended. I’d like a few days to think about it and get ready again. I didn’t give myself a chance in any of the sets. You want to make it competitive, hard for him and I wasn’t able to do that. You can’t always control how your opponent plays.”
Murray now heads for the reassurance of the grass at Queen’s and Wimbledon, where he reigns, and might even have the benefit of a new coach. “I haven’t spoken to anyone since the tournament began [about succeeding Ivan Lendl as coach]. I would hope to have someone in place, I don’t know,” he said.
“I’ve played a lot of tennis the last couple of weeks, the most in a two-week span in the last six months, since I came back from injury. Going on to grass in some ways will help me. You need to try to learn from it and what exactly went wrong.”
It could be argued that Murray did not play altogether poorly, more that Nadal did not allow him to play anywhere near as well as he can.
The Spaniard said: “I think I played my best tennis of the whole fortnight,” adding his customary humble rider: “I have to play my very best to have any chance on Sunday.”
If he plays like he did against Murray, he will have few worries. There were moments in the first two sets when Murray might have made a better fight of it but his game was too passive, allowing Nadal to dictate nearly every exchange.
Even his normally sound defensive game unravelled under pressure and pretty much nothing went right for him. When Nadal’s forehand hit a footprint at 4-2 in the second set and spoiled Murray’s reply, followed within a shot by another break, the match was hurtling towards its inevitable end.
When Nadal served out to love for a two-set lead, there was a growing air of despondency in Murray’s box.
Building blockMurray said on at least three occasions during this tournament that defence is the building block of success in all sport.
On the warmest day of the fortnight, he played with energy-consuming care rather than with the ruthlessness and zest required to make his opponent at least uncomfortable.
A third of his returns of Nadal’s high-grade serve were dropping inside the service boxes, gifts that he accepted on nearly every occasion. There was simply not enough depth on Murray’s ground strokes. And the punishment continued unabated to the end.
Ernests Gulbis, meanwhile, was never going to do anything but trust his outrageous talent against Djokovic in the first semi-final.
But, having waited two hours to add sufficient rigour to his genius to crack the Serb’s equilibrium, he surrendered in the most timid fashion. When Djokovic recovered from the shock of the brief Gulbis fightback, he served out to love for a 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win that keeps alive his hopes of completing a collection of all the Slams.
Gulbis always hits freely and without fear, but he lacked discipline in the shot. Too many were hit without regard for the consequence, a present for Djokovic.
It was only when Gulbis cashed in on some lovely, inventive tennis that he was able to drag a set back. Yet his propensity for self-destruction is so ingrained he handed the break back. A double fault unsettled him and Djokovic seized on his mood, parking a forehand in the deuce corner, then forcing a feeble backhand for break point. It came with an overcooked forehand and Gulbis’s challenge was broken.