It will be the marquee final that many hoped for — as the first encounter between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic on clay since the five set semifinal at the French Open in 2015 will take place in the final at the Mutua Madrid Open. In the semifinals, Murray eliminated Rafael Nadal whereas Djokovic defeated Kei Nishikori in the evening session. René Denfeld recaps men’s semifinal Saturday in Madrid.
Andy Murray def. Rafael Nadal 7-5, 6-4
In the first semifinal of the day, Andy Murray faced Rafael Nadal in a rematch of the 2015 final in Madrid — and once again, it was the World No. 2 who managed to defeat the crowd favorite in straight sets, and end Nadal’s winning streak at 13. While the match was fairly competitive, it wasn’t the pair’s most high-quality encounter — as Murray went up a break in both sets, but ultimately struggled when toeing the line to serve them out.
“Obviously, I went up in both of the sets, served for both sets, and then he came back,” Murray said afterwards. “Then I managed to get the momentum back straight away. I didn’t feel like it was so up and down, but he certainly had a lot of chances. There were a few service games where he had multiple break points. Yeah, the beginning of the second set was important. The first game of the second set was a very high level, high intensity, and he had chances. I came up with some big serves to win that game. That was important.”
For Nadal, the loss at the hands of Murray was his first during a European clay season that’s already seen him pick up more wins within his first three tournaments than he did during the entire lead up to Roland Garros in 2015.
“Well, I think I had another positive week,” Nadal said. “I made it to the semifinals. I think I’m very consistent every week. This is good news. Well, today mentally I think I was okay. I fought a lot until the end. I tried to look for solutions, and I think I did that; it wasn’t enough.”
For Murray, tomorrow provides another change in rhythm — as he’ll need to adjust from Nadal’s heavy lefty topspin to the slightly flatter right-handed groundstrokes by Novak Djokovic.
“Yeah, I think the challenge from yesterday to today, you know, playing a right-hander who hits the ball extremely flat and today a left-hander with lots of spin,” Murray said. “Tomorrow, back to a right-hander again. Both guys hit the ball much flatter than Rafa, so it’s different. [I’ll] need to make adjustments again tomorrow.”
Novak Djokovic def. Kei Nishikori 6-3, 7-6(4)
In the second semifinal, Djokovic and Kei Nishikori faced off in a rematch of last month’s Miami final — which the World No. 1 claimed, 7-6(5), 6-4. Djokovic went in as the favorite ahead of the encounter and he very much held up to that status — even if the first 30 minutes were highly competitive as the Japanese looked to make a statement with three break chances in the first game of the match.
The World No. 1, however, saved all three of them as he eventually held to open the match and never looked back — until he served for the match at *5-4, 40-0, that is. At that point, Djokovic suddenly produced a flurry of unforced errors — hitting an inside-out forehand not only back to Nishikori, but also wide and wasting another match point with a double fault.
“When you’re playing a top player, a quality player, that will use every opening and every opportunity that he’s got to come back to the match — which happened today,” Djokovic said. “You know, easy forehand to finish off the match, 40-love, couple of double faults and couple of good points from Kei and the break was there. I obviously should not have let that happen.”
The Japanese suddenly clicked into gear and showed the kind of tennis that had seen him almost capture the title in Madrid in 2014 and took him to the US Open finals a few months afterwards.
“Yeah, I thought I had the third set,” Nishikori said after the match. “I started really well, I think. I was dictating a lot with my forehand and playing aggressive, played what I wanted — but just one game, he played really well. He hits very deep. Maybe some of the shot I made some mistake, but only few shots. Maybe few points first set and also second set.
“Yeah, it’s shame, because I had some chance first and second set, too. But, yeah, I learned many things today.”
Djokovic’s serve held up at *5-6 to force a tiebreak and eventually stopped his surging opponent just before the tide was about to turn, as he wrapped up the encounter in two sets.
Djokovic finished his match after 10 pm, so a quick recovery will be key for him –considering he’ll face Murray in less than 24 hours. Post-match, the Serb admitted that the scheduling in Madrid was slightly unconventional, considering the big gap between the men’s two semifinals.
“Yeah, it is a little bit strange, I must say,” he said. “There are some factors that affect this kind of scheduling that is not only related to the players. It’s related it TVs and many different off-court factors that are obviously an interest in the tournament to benefit out of. So we have to accept it, but it is better that there is a smaller gap between the two semifinals, definitely.”
Djokovic and Murray will contest tomorrow’s men’s final at 6:30 pm local time.