Thinking about Andy Murray’s rise to grand slam champion the other day, it struck me that the Scot owes a thank you to Rafael Nadal for the part he played. Or rather the part he didn’t play, due to his absence through injury.
Now of course Murray already had Nadal to thank for convincing him he needed to move abroad when he was a teenager. Seeing the young Spaniard hitting with Carlos Moya, a grand slam winner and former world No 1 made Murray think that he was hard done-by having to hit with just his brother Jamie in Scotland. So Murray moved to Barcelona and so the transformation began. But more than that, perhaps Murray owes Nadal an extra thank you, for not being around to spoil his chances of winning that, until New York, elusive first grand slam title.
Now I am not for one minute suggesting that Murray did not deserve his victory in New York. Of course he did, and having also won the Olympics, he was a rightful and worthy champion. But if they are truthful, then many people might just have been asking themselves; would Murray have won if Rafa had been around?
The question might be irrelevant but it is not frivolous, not when you look at what’s happened between the two in grand slam events. While Murray beat Nadal in the semi-finals of the US Open in 2008 and again in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in 2010, there were mitigating factors in both those results. Murray played fantastically well in New York but by that time, on his most troublesome surface, Nadal had played himself into the ground after his French Open, Wimbledon and Olympic triumphs and was physically and mentally spent. In Australia in 2010, though Murray was again playing superbly, the Spaniard’s knees gave out and he had to quit, a rare sight.
Since then, Nadal has won four grand slam semi-final meetings in a row against Murray, twice denying him a place in the Wimbledon final and once each in Paris and New York. He also beat him in the semi-finals of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in 2010. Murray has improved since then, and a lot in the past 12 months, but who knows, perhaps even the mere fact that Nadal was not around at the Olympics or in New York may have made Murray slightly more confident, one less great player to beat to achieve his dreams.
Now that Nadal has dropped to fourth in the rankings, behind Murray, the two men would not have been able to meet in Melbourne until the final, so it’s a bit of a moot point. But when the Spaniard returns, the fact that he has won all those big matches against Murray could be a serious factor when the two square up once more. Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.