Monday, 26 January 2009

Nando 'The Specimen' and other Mythical Creatures (or Murray-Bane)...

Well what do you say? Is a Slam a different animal? Evidently so. But I can't help feeling that Murray's issues out on court today were less Slam related and more to do with his long running fitness problems that were only accentuated by the heat.

As you may have noticed by the general tone of my inclusion of him in the recent list of anti-picks I came up with for the Open this year, I'm not fully convinced that Verdasco is the real deal. But I will say one thing about Nando: the guy is a specimen. Not that there aren't more physically gifted players out there, and I do sometimes find the size of his female fanbase a little puzzling (swarthy good looks? Really?), but if you were given the option of choosing your opponent in a 5 set slugfest under the Australian sun, Nando would surely be one of the players you'd sooner avoid (David Ferrer would top the list with Nadal).

If you look at Murray in sets two and five in particular, he looks a little more bedraggled than usual. Verdasco on the other hand looks like he's just warming up. In fact he has that confident air about him throughout the match, punctuated with only brief outbursts of disgust (mostly at wasted opportunities). It's almost as if he realises he's got a very vulnerable Murray exactly where he wants him, and is only surprised the job isn't over sooner.

There's no question in my mind Murray should have got through this. He's going to have to learn how to close these types of matches in 3 sets.

What went wrong:

1. He already had to come back from two sets down against Melzer just two days ago. IMO the top two or three players have at most 2-3 5 setters in them if they are to take the title (David Ferrer could probably play seven, but doesn't alas possess the skill to get that far).
Murray it seems may only have two in him, but factor in the heat of Melbourne and the illness he spoke of and that quickly becomes one.

2. He played a fairly sound first set, but with what seems like uncharacteristic over-confidence took things a little easy in the second; he actually went back to bad-Murray: the one that Federer criticised for playing too many loopy shots from way back behind the baseline. Nando rubbed his hands in glee. This IMO was the fatal mistake as it set the whole tone of the match.

3. Nando succumbed to some of that over-confidence in set 3; he probably sensed where Murray was physically by his floundering performance in the previous set, and got a little carried away. Murray conserved his energy and did little more than stay in most points leaving Nando to let rip the UFEs.

4. Set 4 - Fatigue really begins to creep in for Murray; Nando cranks things up. Yes Andy, he served a staggering 93% first serves in, but you know what? That's what confidence (and a sense you have a realistic shot at advancing into your first Slam Quarter final) does for you - and he was confident because he knew you were suffering.

5. Final Set - Murray's really struggling now, but actually plays a better set of tennis than set 4. At 3-2 up, perhaps with a sense that with one last push he can see this through, he pushes himself to the limit. But Nando's really flowing. His groundstrokes have a real edge to them now and is brimming with belief. It's not difficult to wear Andy down.

Bottom Line: There's a whole swathe of perfectly beatable players out there who suddenly turn into minotaurs if you let them get into tight 4th sets. If Murray is to win a Slam (anywhere), he'll need to learn to get through them in three sets. It's not as if he doesn't have the tools either; he just didn't seem to be thinking very clearly through the mist of fatigue and elected instead to revert back to the pre-Wimbledon Murray. There were also rather too many moments of madness (which for Murray means painfully inopportune dropshots).

As for Nando, although he's made the last eight, I remain unconvinced that he'll prove me wrong; he's certainly capable of the flamboyant shotmaking and at times unreturnable serving he wowed us with today (I can't think of anyone in the top 4 serving 93% 1st serves in), but it' s hardly the mainstay of his game and will I think be rather hard-pressed to reproduce it with any kind of regularity.

Think Roger or Novak are going to have a 'told you so' moment? Maybe in private.

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