ATP Tour – Rome & Madrid Masters

Posted on May 20, 2010

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It would seem that the ATP World Tour has come to life in recent weeks. The two Masters Events in Rome and Madrid have ignited what has been an otherwise tepid start to 2010 from some of the game’s biggest names. Andy Murray’s form has picked up considerably, while in Madrid this week, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer carved their way through the field to contest the final. It seems that the clay-court season is bringing out the best in the star players.

Murray lost in round 3 in Rome and at the quarter-final stage in Madrid, losing to David Ferrer on both occasions, but the noticeable improvement in his game will give him much more confidence to perform well at the French Open, which begins next week. Ferrer is an excellent clay-court player and he proved too dominant for Murray at both these events, but with his increasing self-belief and if he gets a favourable draw, Murray could now go further in the French Open than one would have predicted two weeks ago.

In Rome, Murray had a bye in the first round before destroying Andreas Seppi 6-2 6-4 in round 2. It was a dominant display from Murray and it helped to regain some much-needed confidence after his recent run of poor form. Indeed, the Murray back-hand, a shot which had deserted him in recent tournaments, returned to the fore and provided a platform on which he could build and produce some fine tennis. He outplayed Seppi in every department, not a great surprise, but given his lack of confidence it was a pleasurable sight for British tennis fans. The 3rd round saw him come up against the 13th seeded Spaniard David Ferrer, a much tougher opponent than Seppi, and one who looks certain to make an impact at Roland Garros next week. Ferrer had too much for Murray and he sealed a comfortable victory with a 6-3 6-4 win but the way in which Murray competed was heartening, and, although he still looked way short of the form which saw him blitz through the field at the Australian Open in January, he proved that the improvements shown in the previous round were not fleeting, and he has made some progress in terms of finding form. He produced some fine drop shots – a Murray trademark, and he hit the ball much more decisively than he has been. His first serve percentage was disappointing though and ultimately that proved a decisive factor. He lost his serve once in each set before Ferrer tied up the match in one hour 36 minutes. Ferrer marched on to the final before succumbing to ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal 7-5 6-2.

Murray then travelled to Madrid hoping he could continue his surge in performance and he obliged. The way in which he dispatched both Juan Ignacio Chela and Victor Hanescu in his first two encounters was impressive and he did it with breathless ease. His first serve percentage was up as he relaxed his service motion, making it difficult for his opponents to get into the match. He hit the ball cleanly and it is these kinds of dominant displays which Murray has long hoped to see the return of. Chela, a clay-court specialist, and Hanescu, a beast of a man with huge reach, could have provided stern tests had Murray not have been so imposing but he appears to have found his rhythm again. He eventually fell at the quarter-final stage to the impressive David Ferrer, losing 7-5 6-3 in two hours 15 minutes. The length of the match says much about how competitive it was, with each game keenly contested. Unlike in Rome, Murray pushed Ferrer hard and made him work for the victory. Murray left the Spanish capital in up-beat mood and will now play exhibition matches this week in order to stay fresh for the second Grand-Slam event of the year in Paris next week. With his performance levels steadily rising at these events, one would not bet against Murray making it to the second week at Roland Garros.

After Murray lost in Madrid it was left to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to rip through the draw and take their place in the final. The last time Nadal and Federer went head to head was exactly 12 months ago at the same event and so it was fitting that Madrid would once again play host to a match between two of the game’s greatest ever players. Federer took the title in 2009 before going on to win at Roland Garros a few weeks later, but this year Nadal is once again proving that he is the player to beat on clay.  He won this final fairly comfortably 6-4 7-6 and is now the overwhelming favourite to regain his French Open crown. After a season which has so far seen some of the lesser players like Roddick, Soderling and Verdasco dominate; it now seems that the very top players are coming to the fore again, just in time for the French Open and Wimbledon. It should be an interesting next few months on the tour.

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Posted in: Tennis