Usually the clay season is alive and kicking by the time Monte Carlo starts, but this year has been a little different. It wasn’t a mandatory event last year, but it still attracted good fields. The main difference was the absence of the unbeatable Novak Djokovic (check out this sketch), who has been taking a break/cautious injury pause in an attempt to peak for Belgrade. A huge tournament for the family.
The craziest match of all in Monte Carlo a couple of weeks ago was that match between Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal, which I did have the pleasure of watching. There was about a half hour delay (or so it felt like) with Andy Murray warming up on another court when he was scheduled to play. The Tennis Betting sites must have given Murray no chance of winning, yet for a moment it looked possible, just because everything in the match seemed to defy belief. He could barely serve in practice, then he took anti-inflammatory medication. I was sure it was going to be a retirement. In hindsight, I did wonder if the delay was at least partially strategic, buying himself some more time so that the medication would kick in.
The match started, then I watched his serve. It looked fine to me. His body language was subdued, and he walked around the court like he didn’t really care. Though he must have cared to end up playing the match. I guess that was the amazing thing about the match to me. The attitude with which he played the match, contrasted with the outstanding tennis that he played. He didn’t match Nadal’s intensity or mental questions. He kept the points short (or at least tried to) and his movement was great, even though there was barely any energy about him. He is normally like that to some extent, but it was a level lower than usual. The surprising thing was that it didn’t affect his play.
After the subdued body language, and the lack of expectations, the longer the match went on, the more Murray was emotionally invested in it. His forehand looked better than usual. I really liked his sneaks into the net. He should do them more often. I think he should be able to spot openings like that more often, but it never enters his mind, that he should adopt that play at all.
I kept expecting Nadal to adopt more of a killer extinct but he couldn't string enough points together to take a good lead for himself. So far there has been something unremarkable about Nadal’s play this clay season. I think it is carried on from his hardcourt play, where he does give away more errors than he used to, but also playing a more aggressive style. He’s not as much of a relentless player in general, but I don’t know if that makes him any worse, since he has made other improvements. I expect that with more time to make adjustments to the clay again this season that he will start to find his best form.
After two sets of tennis with long and drawn out games, Murray finally ended up being too tired to put up a good fight in the third set, and Nadal steamrolled to a third set victory. This match was under so many special circumstances, that it didn’t really mean a thing in the grand scheme of things, but it was a highlight from what has been an underwhelming clay season so far.