I caught the Rafael Nadal vs. Andy Murray Tokyo final right as Rafa was closing out the first set, 6-3, against the Scot. I admit, I sighed and considered changing the channel. Hadn’t I seen this match at least a dozen times before? (Actually, thirteen. Going into the match, Andy had a career win-loss of 4-13 vs. Rafa.) But I decided to keep watching because I felt a little guilty about dismissing Murray’s Thailand Open victory last week. After pooh-poohing his goal of supplanting Roger Federer as year end No. 3, I suddenly wanted to see how hard he’d fight for it.
He put on quite a show. Andy struck a match early in the second set, lighting an internal fire that burned atomic towards the end. Nadal won just four points – four! – in the entire third set, as Murray blazed to a 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory. Even the overly long trophy presentation which included the ceremonial handing-off of giant checks, Longine watches, plane tickets and commemorative plates – failed to dampen his competitive zeal. After begging the crowd’s pardon for rushing through his victory speech, he ran off to fetch his brother for the doubles final. The Murrays beat Frantisek Cermak/Filip Polasek 6-1, 6-4.
Though Murray has bageled Nadal before, in the 2009 Rotterdam final when Rafa was playing with a knee injury, this win halted a five-match losing streak to the Spaniard. Rafa didn’t appear to have an injury excuse this go ’round, and as of post time both guys are still scheduled to play this week’s Shanghai Masters tournament.
So while things are looking bright for the sombre Scot, the clouds continue to gather over Rafa’s season. Rafa’s now lost seven of the ten finals he’s played in 2011 – all six of the previous defeats going to Novak Djokovic. While it’s tempting to wonder if Nadal’s “Djokovic problem” is developing into a more treacherous “Confidence Problem”, I’ll choose to believe Rafa’s explanation. . . for now (via The Independent):
“My season has been very good. I don’t need to recover my confidence. My confidence is there and only Djokovic is better than me [at the moment]. I will cope with this. I’m happy with what I am doing.
“Only a few players could have beaten Murray today. I just want to congratulate Andy because I was really impressed by his tennis. He was unstoppable.”
With Federer and Djokovic both out of the Shanghai Masters, few roadblocks remain for Andy Murray in this last stretch of 2011.
Agnieszka Radwanska is the WTA’s answer to Andy Murray, this weekend’s Premier-level title in Beijing – a 7-5, 0-6, 6-4 victory over Andrea Petkovic – coming just a week after she won what had been the biggest title of her career in Tokyo (6-3, 6-2 victory over Vera Zvonareva.) The win in China boosts her to No. 8 in the world and makes her a strong contender for the year end finals in Istanbul.
“If someone said I was going to win these two tournaments, I’d say they were crazy. All of the top players were playing,” Radwanska said (via the WTA). “But I was playing better and better every match, especially in Tokyo. I feel like Tokyo was my biggest title already so when I came here I felt like I had nothing to lose. I just tried to keep going and not think about anything, and just fight for every point.”
It will be interesting to see how this perpetually solid, if not awe-inspiring, player progresses now that she has a taste for the big time. Her two biggest wins have come since splitting with her father-coach after this season’s French Open. She now travels with Fed Cup Captain Tomasz Wiktorowski. Perhaps these victories will provide some much-needed inspiration for fellow father-firer Caroline Wozniacki, who crashed out in Beijing this week after being just two points from facing Agnieszka in the semifinals.
Also in Beijing, Tomas Berdych beat Marin Cilic in the men’s final.