Murray’s return is the key: take out Nadal’s serve and he can win
I find it tough to separate Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal in ability because they both have a range of powerful weapons that can win them this match. Can Murray win? Of course he can. He’s beaten Nadal three times before. Can Nadal win? Of course. He’s already won seven Grand Slam titles, including here at Wimbledon two years ago, the last time he played.
Let’s run through their strokes and physical qualities first. Both men have good forehands, powerful and accurate, but the edge goes to Nadal because he can vary between flat and spin, and has that advantage of whip-flicking the ball that most lefties seem to have. There should be no technical reason a left-hander can curl a forehand in a manner impossible for a right-hander, but it’s a feature of most lefties’ games.
Murray gets the edge on backhand, but both are superb, and Nadal’s backhand has improved through using his top hand more. Both players’ serves are good, and Murray’s is improving. Nadal of course has the leftie advantage of being able to slide it out wide on the advantage court.
Both are good volleyers, and closely matched. Both can drop well, though Murray more frequently does. Those soft hands and his faith in them are an asset. But Nadal is good at getting back balls other players can’t. They’re both comfortable at the net.
Murray has a clear advantage in return of serve: he’s the best in the world, so Nadal’s serving and Murray being on form with those returns could play a key part in the outcome. The movement of both men is fantastic. Nadal is muscular and has great stamina, but Murray has the brawn too now, and staying power.
They both have the right attitude to win. Murray will benefit from the support of the Centre Court crowd but there will be some support for Nadal, and certainly no animosity. We could have a real cracker-jacker on our hands. Heck! They even got this far in identical fashion by dropping the opening sets in their quarter-finals then cantering to wins in four, against Robin Soderling (Nadal) and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (Murray).
In so many ways, it’s too close to call. It wouldn’t surprise me if Nadal won, or if Murray won. But in a situation like this, asked to tip a winner when it’s this closely matched, I look to the “tie-break” category of head-to-heads.
Nadal leads their meetings 7-3 but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Nadal won their first five meetings, up to summer 2008 before Murray’s ascent in earnest. Murray has won three of the last five, including the 2010 Australian Open quarter when Nadal retired injured.
Next, it comes down to who’s won the biggest prizes already, thereby proving they can get over the line under the most intense pressure. Thus Nadal. But rule nothing out.
Today’s big match: Murray v Nadal
How they match up:
British Nationality Spanish
23 Age 24
Surrey Residence Mallorca
2005 Turned pro 2001
Right-handed Plays Left-handed
6ft 3in Height 6ft 1in
No 4 World ranking No 1
14 Career titles 40
$11.2m Career prize-money $31.2m
W19 L4 Wimbledon record W27 L4
SF (2009) Wimbledon best W (2008)
5-4 Odds 4-7
Head-to-head: Nadal leads 7-3
My prediction: Edge to Nadal in more than three
Coaching report: Vera Zvonareva v Tsvetana Pironkova
We highlighted our match of the day yesterday as Serena Williams versus Petra Kvitova, and Serena won, although not as quickly as I thought she might. But it was the other semi-final, between Vera Zvonareva and Tsvetana Pironkova, that had the better narrative, swinging both ways as it went three sets. Watching it as a coach it had by far the more notable elements to highlight than the other match.
I wrote the other day about Pironkova’s forehand chops and how she deployed them so well in her win over Venus Williams. She can hit her forehand with drive, topspin and slice, and one thing that stood out for me yesterday was the way she changed her grip to hit the slice. With a regular forehand, her grip is close to semi-Western. When she goes to hit that slice, she changes to a continental, hitting high to low with the face slightly open, sending the ball low.
Pironkova has also got a world-class backhand, with great racket speed, and the girl can hit a killer forehand. I’d love to be able to say it was a Bollettieri forehand but it’s all her own and she can unleash it from anywhere, even six to eight feet behind the baseline. She hit one of those babies at 97mph yesterday! Her serve is big, averaging 105-107mph with top speed yesterday of 117mph. And for all the reasons above – slicing, dicing, power and serve – she won the first set.
Zvonareva is a “hold your breath” player: you never know which Vera is going to show up. It could be the ball-banging ice maiden. It could be the girl who melts between the ears. Yesterday it was ice, and she kept her composure and clearly changed tactics in the second set. She took off a bit of pace in order to achieve accuracy. Her all-court game came out to play. Her second serve points went sky high, and she took her chances at the net, with 11 net winners in that set alone, and 22 in the match (against Pironkova’s two). Zvonareva was hitting her backhands superbly and moving wonderfully well by this stage, and that’s how she levelled.
So to the third set, which boiled down to Vera maintaining her cool and the tactics that won set two, and Pironkova’s confidence dipping and her serve faltering.
I wrote that Serena would win in two, and she did, and I said that Kvitova would be overwhelmed – and she wasn’t. She’s a big strong girl, and a leftie, but it wasn’t just the serve that caused Serena some problems, it was the Czech’s attacking mentality too. This was her big shot and she played beyond herself to take it a tie-break in the first set. Perhaps Serena had a few nerves out there but at no stage did I think we’d end up with a shock, and the second set was much quicker.
I’ve just started reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (or The Modern Prometheus) for the first time. If you created the perfect tennis ‘monster’, whose attributes would you piece together?
Mark Pincock in Phuket, Thailand
Good question. I’d take the running forehand of Pete Sampras, and the one-handed backhand of Roger Federer, mixing it up with the two-handed backhand of Andre Agassi. For reliability, I’d have Boris Becker’s serve. And I’d give this monster the returning ability of Andy Murray, and the volleys of Martina Navratilova. The body of this thing, and its athleticism, would be sourced from Williams sisters genes. This player would have the movement of Michael Chang.
Seeing as I’m in fantasy doctor territory, I’d make a composite brain with bits from Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Monica Seles and Rafa Nadal, to mix icy coolness, super-relaxed and utter determination all together.
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You have to see the huge crowds at the Ladies Invitation doubles, but then with Navratilova, Croft and other crowd pullers, why not? As for the masses to see Hingis and Kournikova, there’s an obvious attraction. I must add a word for Kournikova’s steeliness. We went to Iraq and Afghanistan recently to visit US troops. It was a tough seven-day trip. She was a star.
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