On this day: Andy Murray wins biggest title on clay over Rafael Nadal


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On this day: Andy Murray wins biggest title on clay over Rafael Nadal

The 15-year-old Andy Murray, promising junior with a bright future in front of him, had arrived at Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona to improve the various elements in his game and move it to the next level before joining the professionals.

This excursion proved to be very successful and Andy had won three Futures titles on clay in 2004 before steeping in on the higher level in 2005 when he entered the top-100. Despite having a chance to train on some of the best clay courts in the world in Barcelona, Andy preferred hard and grass surfaces and his first big results on the Tour were related to those faster surface, still searching for that fine balance that would excel his clay game.

That happened in 2009 after reaching the semi-final in Monte Carlo, the quarter-final in Madrid and the last eight at Roland Garros as well, with another solid spring of 2011 when he lost in the closing stages of three big clay events to Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Three years later Andy was the Roland Garros semi-finalist once again and finally advanced into the first ATP final on clay in Munich in 2015, edging Philipp Kohlschreiber in more than three hours to lift the 32nd ATP crown but the first on the slowest surface.

Out of sudden, Murray was the force to be reckoned with on clay (he played in three big finals in 2016), proving that next week in Madrid as well when he defeated Rafael Nadal in the final to pick up his first Masters 1000 title on clay!

Andy needed an hour and 29 minutes to dismiss the reigning champion 6-3, 6-2 (Nadal failed to stay on the court for an hour and a half in a clay court defeat only for the eighth time in his career), overpowering three top-10 players en route to the title despite the fact he was 1-13 against the Top 10 rivals on clay prior to Madrid!

Also, Andy became only the fourth player who beat Nadal in an ATP final on clay after Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Horacio Zeballos, and this was the hardest loss for Nadal on clay in terms of the scoreline since Bastad 2004 when he was only 18!

This was their seventh meeting on clay and the first win for Andy who finally added that last touch he lacked to topple the great rival on his beloved surface. It has to be said this was one of the toughest springs for Nadal in a career, falling short in Monte Carlo and Barcelona before Madrid and marking the first occasion since 2004 that the Spaniard had failed to win an ATP title on clay in three back-to-back tournaments (he would lose in Rome and Roland Garros as well)!

Still, we can't take anything away from Andy who played a brilliant match to overpower Rafa in every department, losing just four points behind his second serve and fending off all three break points to keep the pressure on the other side of the net, something Nadal couldn't deal with at that moment.

Throughout the tournament, Murray played with aggression and determination to keep the points on his racquet, taking the ball early and returning the second serve from inside the court against every opponent. The Spaniard served at 72% although that didn't help him much against Andy's rock solid return, facing six break points and losing serve three times to hand the win to his rival and continue miserable run on clay.

The Briton earned the win in the shortest rallies up to four strokes, serving better and hitting the first groundstroke more efficiently than Nadal who stayed in touch in the longer rallies but with no effect on the final result.

Andy meant business right from the start, winning 12 of the first 14 points to build the momentum and a 3-0 advantage. Serving great, he managed to break Nadal when the Spaniard sent a backhand long in the second game, settling into a nice rhythm and mounting the pressure on the opponent.

Rafa got his name on the scoreboard with a forehand winner in game four but Andy fired one on his own in the next game to extend the lead to 4-1. Nadal held at love in game six and was ready to compete, creating two break points in the next game that could have boosted his chances after a slow start.

Andy was not to be denied, though, winning four points in a row to get out of jail and serve for the set after an easy hold for Nadal in game eight. The Spaniard found his backhand at these moments and created another break point that Murray erased with a perfect serve&forehand combo, closing the set after a forced error from Rafa after 40 minutes.

Things were only to become more serious for Nadal in set number two, netting a backhand in the opening game that gave Andy an early lead, with the Briton confirming it with an ace in game two that pushed him closer to the finish line.

Rafa suffered another blow in game three, wasting game points and giving his serve away after a poor backhand, drifting further and further away from the title defense. Another backhand error cost him the fourth game as well before finally ending his drought with an ace in game five to at least reduce the deficit.

Andy forged a 5-1 advantage with another game full of variety and depth in his shots and earned a match point with two service winners at 5-2. Another poor return from Nadal sealed his fate in this match and Murray started a huge celebration with Amelie Mauresmo and the rest of his team, winning his tenth match in a row on clay and lifting the second title in two weeks.