I'm kind of mixed about the whole Andy Murray thing as on the one hand I've said in the past and continue to believe, that he genuinely does have the makings of a good clay courter. Whether he'll excel or challenge Nadal is another question though, and very dependent on whether he's willing to adjust certain aspects of his game. In particular, a propensity to hang back, and try to out last your opponent into making an error.
I bring this up because there was a lot of discussion after his loss yesterday on whether Murray's unwillingness to change puts him in the same category as the Federers and Samprases whose stubborn reluctance to modify their style of play sometimes cost them matches they should have won.
If I didn't want to keep this blog family friendly or wasn't such a gentleman (ahem), I'd take this opportunity for a well timed, well placed profanity. Do we even need to go into why I find such a comparison so outrageous?
If you won even half the amount of Slams those two have, wouldn't you be reluctant to change?
Murray's won precisely -- oh wait, lemmee see, no Slams at all -- even though he's better placed than some people might think to pick one up in the not too distant future.
But back to Murray and his pushing-it-real-good approach to tennis. I'm sorry to say this, and Lord knows I've been one of the most vociferous backers of his gem of a backhand, much improved serve and winners mentality, but at times he makes it difficult to argue against those that characterise him as a 'pusher'. Which I still think he's not.
It's all the more frustrating because you know what he's capable of if only he would, well stop pushing really.
The way I see it, you can only go so far with such an approach on any surface, before the top players begin edging past you - on clay it presents Murray with a couple of more unique problems:
a) He's simply not (yet) that good on it.
b) He doesn't possess the energy to outlast the stronger, fitter, dirtballers out there (there's a whole lot of them), and I don't just mean the top tier.
If he doesn't bring some of that contained aggression that's brought him so much success on the hard courts, to bear on the remainder of this clay court season, it won't so much be a question of 'Can he get to Nadal?', more a case of 'Can he stay with a Monaco or even a Lapentti?'.
It wasn't just Murray who exited the stadium with his face roughly the same colour as the courts in Rome. The two other results that really stood out for me were Ferrer going out to Mathieu in three sets and Davydenko going down in two (tight) sets to Jurgen Melzer.
After Ferrer's efforts in Barcelona last week (try and dig out his semi versus Gonzales if you want to see something special), you have to cut him some slack. Everyone has a shocker every now and again and even though he may give the impression he's been carved from rock, you've got to think this was one match too far physically.
As for Nikolay, it's not that I expect him to win every match he plays after his hiatus with injury, but you've got to be concerned by a straight loss to a guy you currently own 4-0. We'll let it pass this time Nikolay, but just remember you're a member of Team 'Red', the 1st team in fact.
The top guys have been making their way through the draw fairly routinely, Djoko's double breadstick of Robredo, being the most clinical (Nadal's 6-0, 6-1 smackdown of Soderling doesn't count....any straight sets win from Rafa doesn't count).
But two guys that have really impressed me this week are Del Potro and Gonzales.
I didn't expect much from young Juan this week or on clay in general, and it's still a stretch to suggest he's natural on the surface. But to come through against Stan-the-man in the manner that he did today, suggests real maturity. Novak will have his work cut out.
And the way Gonzales has been playing of late, you've got to think he'll put a stop the Monaco runaway train.
I don't expect the Nadal-Verdasco match to be that competitive as I just don't think Fernando's in the same place he was a couple of months back, but you never know.
One last thing. It's funny - this is the quietest, most uneventful, under-the-radar route through the draw I've seen from Federer in a long time. A sign of a return to the old ways? Hope so.