It seems like only yesterday that we witnessed Andy Murray’s tears after losing to Roger Federer in Melbourne, but Murray is now about to encounter the brutal force of the shattering clay court season. The Scot will play in the Monte-Carlo Masters 1000 this week, and shares the same half of the draw as clay court God Rafael Nadal.
Despite cutting his teeth on the clay courts of Barcelona, Murray has only enjoyed moderate results on clay. A French Open quarter-final place last year was the first time he had won more than two matches at Roland Garros. None of the Dunblane native’s 17 ATP titles have come on the deep orange dirt either. The French Open and clay historically favours plucky South American journeymen and the Spanish. It is infamous for being physically draining and exhausting, but Murray should be fine with the long rallies as these are a part of his DNA.
Murray is a willing runner and has magical hands which should be an advantage on clay with spin so prevalent on this surface. Murray may have suffered disappointing losses to Mardy Fish and Jarko Tipsarevic since his adventures down under, but en route to the Australian Open final, Murray experimented with a more attacking game. He kept points short, hammering winners at will, particularly against Marin Cilic in the semi-final. If Murray is able to show the gutsy determination he plays with when at his best, he has a chance of silverware on clay.
Murray is due the daunting task of Nadal in the Monte-Carlo semis. He needs to unsettle Nadal, counteract his devilish spin and bring him to the net. The British number one will have a great chance to progress if he can formulate a productive gameplan. Nadal is not the force he was in 2008 and Robin Soderling shocked the Spaniard in last year’s French Open by defeating him soundly in the fourth round. There is now a dangerous, lingering question over Nadal's fitness due to his recent dip in form and fragile knees.
Murray has never beaten Nadal on clay and their last meeting on the unforgiving surface was ironically enough at Monte-Carlo last year. In the last 2 or 3 years, Murray has transformed himself into a muscle bound warrior, as he showed when he stood toe to toe with Nadal in this year’s Australian Open quarter-final. The first two sets were won by Murray as he battled to a deserved lead before Nadal sadly retired due to his persistent knee problem.
The tussle for 3rd place in the ATP rankings between the two is a mouth-watering sub plot to next week, but Murray will still have a tough route to the final where he will most likely face Serbian Novak Djokovic. German Phillip Kohlschreiber is a potential second round opponent after Murray’s first round bye, and is a highly dangerous customer on clay. Kohlschreiber dismantled Djokovic in straight sets to cause a titanic upset at last year’s French Open.
It will be interesting to see how Murray’s break after the searing heat of the American hard courts has affected him. Almost two weeks have elapsed since the demoralising events against Fish, so you would hope Murray’s competitive juices are cursing through his veins at the prospect of a whole new challenge in a change of surface. World number 1 Roger Federer is not playing this week, and his nearest adversary Djokovic will want to distance himself from the chasing pack, so it really is all to play for as the season shifts from the American hard-court swing, to the brutal clay court scraps. Let battle commence.