It’s time for the tennis world to have a serious discussion. This discussion is both long overdue and yet still very premature. The discussion, of course, is can Andy Murray win the French Open.
As I said, this discussion is long overdue. Murray has been one of the “Big 4” for almost seven years now. He has been consistently reaching semifinals and better at Masters and Slams since 2008. He has been a top player for the majority of his career now. He is one of the top five odds favorites every tournament he enters. He is a two-time Grand Slam champion and a former World #2. And yet he has never been spoken of as a threat to win Roland Garros.
On the other hand, this threat is still very premature. Just two weeks ago, Murray had never reached a Tour-level final in his career. As of two last week, he had never beaten consecutive Top 10 players on clay or Rafael Nadal on clay. Murray has reached the semifinals at the French Open twice, both of which ended in straight-set losses to Nadal.
And yet, Sunday’s final in Madrid makes us seriously consider what Murray can do at Roland Garros this year. Murray just straight-up hit Nadal off the court in a clay performance that won’t soon be forgotten. Of course, Nadal was not quite at his absolute best. He was a little slow from the baseline and hit some errors that vintage Nadal does not hit. Murray’s level of play should overshadow that, though. It was a level that would have beaten Nadal on clay most of the time anyway.
Murray started off the match aggressive on return. Every return of serve was pummeled and hit into an awkward position for Nadal. Whenever Murray continued that aggressive play he would be able to win the point. It was a lesson for both Murray and all of us as to how to beat Nadal. More than that, though, it was a lesson to all of us how Murray can perform on clay.
This wasn’t just a one-match wonder performance from the Scot, though. It was the culmination of two weeks of Murray playing solid clay court tennis, including a 10-match win streak. Now, his win in Munich is easy to overlook. It was a 250-level tournament with a relatively poor entry list. Murray had to beat exactly one Top 20 player in the process of winning that title. And though it took a third-set tiebreak to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber in the final, the German has always been a tough matchup for Murray.
Madrid was a different story, though. It was a higher-caliber of tournament and Murray did not show any sign of letting up his great form. The only set he lost in the tournament was in his first match against, again, Kohlschreiber. Murray had never before put in enough solid consecutive matches on clay to reach a Masters final. He did that here, though, facing several talented players along the way.
Victories over Marcel Granollers and Milos Raonic can be overlooked. Granollers never had the talent to beat Murray and is well past his prime. Raonic was injured and doesn’t really have the game to handle Murray on clay as the World #3 can neutralize his huge serve and take away his only real advantage.
Back-to-back wins over Nishikori and Nadal are impossible to ignore. The pair are two of the favorites to win the French Open this year and Murray just beat them both in straight sets.
It wasn’t all about the return of serve, either. Murray was aggressive in both matches from the baseline on both serve and return. Also, smart serving and the slower courts helped Murray overcome his obvious biggest weakness–the weak second serve. Murray has spent years very slowly adjusting his game to be able to take on the absolute elite on clay. Now, it looks like he has finally arrived. He is still a step or two away from being a favorite coming into Roland Garros, but if he taught us anything in Madrid it’s that his name can no longer be left out of the discussion.