It was like watching two competitive kids. One would try to draw something beautiful on a piece of paper with curvaceous lines. The other would try to rub it off violently.
Sometimes the drawing disappeared into thin air under the brutal nullifying force of the second; but at other times, the erasure would smear the ink over in such a manner that the resulting mutilated image could be made even more beautiful than what the initial attempt was leading to, and that master stroke would be added by the first.
It left one wondering, "Does he plan all this or just make it up as he goes along?"
The match had a lot of gruelling rallies strewn all over it. One man trying to force the other out of the point using his force and the other trying to achieve the same using his creativity.
And they were closely matched for two sets, though Murray edged Nadal out in both of them.
Nadal did come with a game plan for the match. He was going to attack Murray's second serve. And he started doing something we have never seen him do—take the second serve from inside the baseline.
This started throwing up some errors for Nadal, and then he reverted back. He again started doing the same thing at the end of the second set.
Apart from that, Nadal tried to play within or close to the baseline as much as possible, and use his inside-out forehand or cross-court backhand to drive deep into Andy Murray's forehand corner.
On many occasions, he was hitting flatter and deeper than before. He even hit a 171kph winner off his forehand. All this signals a change into an offensive base liner. Very good news.
But then, change needs time. When he was trying to pack a one-two punch or a knock-out, he ended up making errors. And so he reverted into a sort of compromise—an offensive clay-court type tennis where the philosophy is to work the player around more, pushing him out of the court with deeper, flatter strokes.
Could have worked but did not.
Because Murray was playing a better brand of tennis.
Watching Andy Murray is an experience in itself. He has one aspect that many legendary players have—great hands. But he works it not from the net like most of them did; he does it from the baseline.
Murray is able to mix the elements of depth and pace to produce the appropriate angle. He is able to mix the elements, height of the ball after the bounce, and the position where it bounces so as to extract a weak reply.
And when you least suspect it, he takes off the pace from the shot and you have to change your preparation to generate your own pace.
He doesn't pack one big surprise in a rally. He packs lot of small surprises and lets the game accumulate their effort during the course of the rally.
Everything he does is the natural progression to a winner, which in this case is not a shot that stands out from the rest of the strokes in the rally, but just another one in a sequence.
This is the most efficient way to play tennis from the baseline. A purist's delight.
And today he showed that he can serve and volley too. Whenever he was in a tight spot, his first serve raking up over 210kph on occasion resulted in an ace or a volley winner.
If Murray had allowed Nadal more rhythm he would have done better. But on the "important points" as they call them in tennis, he was the superior player, asking questions of Nadal he had come unprepared for.
But apart from his injury, Rafa Nadal does not need to worry. His game is in the "right way." Forcing the issue with winners still is not natural with him. But he is doing pretty well on the improvement scale after coming off his previous injury.
And Andy Murray: Well, he plays the same way that he has. He just seems to be raising his game on the important points by playing more aggressively.
His style needs to be proved against a more natural offensive base liner. Hopefully the subsequent rounds will do it for us, because it is simply a delight to watch.
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