© Ella Ling

Rafa Nadal

Petchey: Rafa on clay is still the ultimate challenge

Mark Petchey, Andy Murray’s former coach, discusses the European clay-court season with The Tennis Space. Petchey was speaking at the National Trial for the Barclays Ball Kids.
Petchey on how the European clay-court season will play out: “With Rafa coming back the way he did, crunching David Ferrer in the final of Acapulco, that sent out a message. Nobody who plays tennis would have wanted to have seen that. I was amazed by Rafa, to be honest. I didn’t think he would be as good as that as quickly. I always thought that Rafa was going to get back to that level but never thought he would reach that level so fast. That was pretty spectacular. For sure, he is the favourite for the French Open. But obviously it is a little bit different to previous years as you don’t quite know how his knee is going take it playing several tournaments in Europe before Roland Garros. We should find out in the next few weeks how his knee is. But, probably regardless of what happens beforehand, Rafa will be the favourite in Paris. Over five sets on clay, he’s a nightmare.”
Petchey on whether Murray’s approach will be different this summer now that he’s a grand slam champion: “I think his approach will be easier. But I’m not sure whether it will change because Andy has always been so committed to everything. Until you’ve actually done something for the first time, there’s that sense of the unknown, there’s fear. Now he’s a grand slam champion, his journey this summer should be easier. It’s not going to be a lot easier, because there are stil great players out there, and he’s still a marked man so other players are going to be taking free swings at him. But I think he’s in a great position going into the clay-court season. The team around him looks so strong. He’s got great coaches in Ivan and Dani. He looks strong physically and mentally – he was strong against Ferrer in that final in Miami. I like his chances of having his best ever clay-court season. Whether that means winning the French Open is another matter.”
Petchey on whether Murray is good enough to win the French Open: “I do think he’s good enough, absolutely. Let’s be honest, Rafa is incomparable on clay. He is that good. Even if you take Borg and all those guys into account, he’s the best ever on clay. So of course I can’t say that Andy is the favourite, but I can absolutely say that I can see him winning the French Open. Rafa is beatable. I think you have to believe that he’s beatable. If you look at Andy’s big serve, and also the way he takes the ball on, hitting the ball flatter, I think he can trouble Rafa on clay. It’s the surface he has to work hardest on. I don’t think he has to improve an awful lot. He’s already taking the ball on more with his forehand and looking to dictate. I think people lose sight of the fact that Rafa is an aggressive clay-court player. He’s got amazing defence, don’t get me wrong, but first and foremost he’s an aggressive clay-courter. So he dominates you. And I think Andy has done a good job of doing that to other opponents. The ultimate challenge in tennis is taking Rafa on over five sets on clay. Dominating that guy on a clay court is virtually impossible. Over the next three or four weeks, Andy needs to formulate a plan to take Rafa on. You have to bet that’s the guy you’re going to be up against in the final of the French Open. When you’re playing Monte Carlo, Rome or Madrid, you need to be thinking, ‘I need to beat this guy over five sets in Paris – how am I going to do that?’”