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By Erik Gudris | Friday, May 16, 2014

 
Nadal Backhand Rome Quarterfinals 2014

Rafael Nadal came back from behind to defeat Andy Murray in their instant classic quarterfinal at the Italian Open.

Photo Credit: AP

Since Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal last faced each other across the net in Tokyo back in 2011, a lot had transpired for both men. Murray won Olympic gold and Wimbledon to the delight of his nation. For Nadal, recovery from a knee injury led him to several Grand Slam titles and then back to the No. 1 ranking.

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But even with all that under the bridge, their meeting in the Italian Open quarterfinals on Friday felt a lot more important for both men, especially for this season. Both have struggled for a variety of reasons as they head into Roland Garros and this match felt like it could be an important one for both.

It certainly turned out that way though early on it appeared things might just go, in a surprise, Murray's way. Though not really known for his clay court prowess, Murray proved in the opening set he was ready to take it to Nadal.

Having run more kilometers already this week in Rome than he had in both Monte Carlo and Madrid combined, some wondered if Nadal's scratchy last few weeks would catch up to him. It looked that way in the opening games as Nadal struggled to find his range. A double fault there, a botched overheard there, followed up by mistimed shots. Though threatening Murray with several break points, Nadal would not be able to convert.

Soon it was 4-0 in favor of Murray who looked poised, in a shock, to deny Nadal even a game. Nadal managed to finally get on the scoreboard, even with a focused Murray chasing almost everything down. Murray would close out the set 6-1 thanks to a Nadal forehand miss.

The reversal of fortune came soon enough in the second set. Nadal, continuing to press early and looking unsettled under the dreary conditions, faced an early break point after Murray clocked a winning backhand. Nadal would fire up several big serves to hold and only then did he seem fully prepared to deal with his opponent. More aggressive hitting from Nadal allowed him to claim an early break that he never relinquished.

Murray would post a few games, but not enough to halt Nadal who held serve at love to clinch the set 6-3.

The final set proved a guessing game as to who might win it all. That was true even when Nadal continued his momentum after Murray threw in a double fault down break point in the opening game.

Murray resurrected his marvel shotmaking including with this incredible get in the second game.


Nadal would lose his break advantage for 1-all. With both men now holding tight to the baseline, each rally increased with intensity as they tried to rip control from the other.

Murray brought back the firepower after he punched a forehand return midway through the set to seize a 4-2 lead. That would prove, in many ways, to be Murray's last hurrah. Nadal would break back and then hold soon enough for 4-all.

Though the set would extend to 5-all, Murray appeared to fade just enough physically while Nadal seemed to have enough left. Nadal would start winning point after point, including when Murray threw in a double fault giving Nadal another break for 6-5.

With not much left to throw at Nadal, Murray would watch him soon hold several match points. Murray would send a final return long giving Nadal a hard fought 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 win.

"I went more to the net in the second set and played with more passion. During the night the ball got slower and the bounces got slower," Nadal said about the change in momentum. "I played more against his forehand waiting for the right shot. Then I went to the net to give him the Nadal he could not defend and I gave him problems. Every victory is special, but this is important for me against one of the best players in the world. It means a lot to me."

"I was disappointed with the game I played at 4-2 in the third though," Murray said later. "Against him you don’t get a load of chances and he finished the game incredibly well."

Murray also thought this was the best match he's played since coming back from recent back surgery.

For Nadal, despite yet another three set battle on clay, it appears he may be rounding into his best form during the clay court stretch. He'll next face Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinals. But for now, Nadal will certainly relish this hard fought win, that was, in some ways, almost three years in the making.

(Source: Italian Open)

 

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