Tennis: Murray wary of wounded Nadal
ANDY MURRAY is being urged to forget about that tired and tiresome statistic -- that Britain has not had a male Grand Slam champion for 74 years.
"Well, hopefully he doesn't give a f*** about Britain," said Mats Wilander, a Swede who won the Australian Open three times as Murray prepared for his first quarter-final at Melbourne Park -- against Rafael Nadal.
Go with Wilander and ignore Fred Perry for a moment, as some other numbers have provoked interesting discussions here ahead of the Scot and the Spaniard's match on Australia Day.
It is eight months since Nadal last won a singles tournament -- on the red clay of Rome's Foro Italico last May -- and since then the Majorcan has lost 10 of his 11 matches against top-10 opposition.
There has been no bitching from Nadal, the world No 2 and last season's champion in Melbourne, about lies, damned lies, and statistics.
There is no argument with those figures, as everyone knows that last season he had physical difficulties because of pains in his knees, and he also struggled emotionally because of the break-up of his parents' marriage.
"The numbers are the numbers," said Nadal. "So it is probably not the best moment in my career against the top 10, no?"
All you could say was that he came close to beating Nikolay Davydenko in this month's final of the Doha tournament, as he won the opening set 6-0 and later held a couple of match points.
Conversations about Nadal have a different tone to a year ago, when he beat Roger Federer on the Rod Laver Arena, which gave the Spaniard his first hard-court Grand Slam title and which had the Swiss weeping his way through the on-court prize-giving ceremonies before saying: "God, it's killing me."
So Nadal was in possession of the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and Olympic titles, as well as the world No 1 ranking; all that was missing was the US Open trophy.
But then came Nadal's physical and personal problems in 2009. The French Open title went after he experienced his first defeat at Roland Garros, he could not even play at Wimbledon because of his knees, and now Federer is back as the alpha male in the locker room. Tomorrow Nadal could lose his Australian Open title, too.
Murray, though, is not entirely convinced about Nadal's supposed vulnerability. We are talking about a 23-year-old who has already won 36 singles titles, including six Grand Slam trophies, who is the second in the rankings behind only Federer, and who is the title-holder in Melbourne until Murray or someone else beats him. It is the sort of career crisis that others would love to have.
"If he is physically fit, and he seems to be, it's going to be an incredibly tough match. I'm not going to say that he is looking vulnerable," said Murray.
The Scot put in a smart performance to defeat 6ft 9in American John Isner 7-6, 6-3, 6-2 and completed his set of Grand Slam quarter-finals -- he has now reached the last eight or better in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York.
The opening set was tense, with Murray saving a set point, and with Murray's entourage sitting just a couple of metres from 'John Isner's Barmy Army'. Isner probably didn't know he had one; they were all Irishmen, who had adopted the American after he defeated Ireland's Louk Sorensen in the second round.
Nadal also defeated a lanky opponent yesterday, beating Croatia's Ivo Karlovic, who is 6ft 10in. The great surprise about Nadal's victory was the scoreline. He went through 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, so there wasn't even a single tie-break.
The Spaniard has won seven of his nine previous meetings with Murray, but he is not taking anything for granted. "Playing Andy is one of the toughest matches you can have on the circuit. To beat him you have to be able to fight at every single moment and then see what happens," Nadal said.
"Andy can play every single shot well. He serves very well. He can play defence, he can attack, he has good hands. He uses his sliced backhand very well and he's able to change his hands very quickly to play drop shots. He has a lot of options in his game and that's a big advantage.
"We both have our own weapons. The big difference between him and me is that he serves better than I do, but when I'm able to play with rhythm and intensity I can overcome him."
When they played in the fourth round here in 2007, Nadal won in five sets, but in the process he injured his buttock and lost in the next round against Chile's Fernando Gonzalez. (© Daily Telegraph, London)