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Andy Murray employed solid tactics to dismantle Rafael Nadal in Madrid.

Brain Game: Murray Breaks Down Nadal's Lethal Shot

Dissect the keys to Murray's upset win on Nadal's home turf. 

The most lethal shot in tennis for the last decade is currently in disarray.

Rafael Nadal’s forehand has been the most feared shot on tour for an extended period of time, particularly on clay, but Andy Murray successfully broke it down to win his second Mutua Madrid Open with an emphatic 6-3, 6-2 victory in Sunday’s final.

Murray played superbly, while Nadal struggled mightily.

Murray employed a masterful game plan of primarily attacking Nadal’s forehand wide to the deuce court, successfully stopping the Spaniard from dominating with his favorite run-around forehand in the ad court.

Nadal committed a substantial 26 forehand errors, including eight return errors, as Murray played closer to the baseline, and consistently dictated the flow of traffic from the back of the court. Sixteen of Nadal’s 18 baseline errors (nine for Murray) were committed standing in the ad court, as Murray diligently ploughed away at Nadal’s significant problem area. Twelve of Nadal’s 16 ad court forehand errors were committed standing wide around the singles sideline, as Murray successfully wrong-footed Nadal, either playing behind him, or stretching him wide out of his comfort zone.

Nadal was whipping up the back of the ball even more than normal, trying to impart extra spin to keep the ball in. The steeper than normal swing path was playing havoc with his control, and errors were spraying all over the court. The 16 ad court errors featured seven long, four in the net, three wide cross court, and two missing down the line. It’s a new mystery that Nadal has not yet figured out how to fix.

Murray was emotionally stable throughout, and diligently stuck to his winning game plan from start to finish. He won the first seven points in a row, and 12 of the first 14, racing to a 3-0 lead, and surprisingly won 10 of the first 12 baseline points of the match. He would end up winning 61 per cent (38/62) of baseline points to wrestle control of this key metric from the Spaniard.

With Nadal serving at 0-2, deuce, in the second set, Murray had almost doubled Nadal’s baseline dominance, winning 26 points to 15 from the back of the court.

The only bright spots for Nadal was hitting more winners for the match (18 to 11), and winning 10 of 11 points at the net. While the net play would normally be a good secondary pattern to complement his dominating baseline game, this time it seemed much more like Nadal was going to the net to escape Murray’s suffocating groundstroke tactics.

It was the short points, the first strike tactics, where Murray really gained his edge. The Brit dominated short rallies of 0-4 shots 25-14, while Nadal stayed close in the 5-9 shot rallies (17 to 18), and rallies of 10 shots or more (12 to 13).

Murray won an improbable 85% (17/20) of his second serve points, as Nadal really struggled to generate his own power off Murray’s slower second serve deliveries. On the last two points of the match, Nadal amazingly missed back-to-back forehand returns off slow, routine second serves. At 30-30, his forehand return landed closer to the stands the court, and on match point, it hit three quarters of the way up the net.

What Nadal excelled with, as he always does, is an unquestionable positive attitude, even when his best form had clearly not turned up. There is much to admire from a player that is able to separate underperforming execution with an unrelenting determination to never give up, whatever the score.

With back-to-back clay court titles, Murray takes genuine title aspirations into Paris for Roland Garros, while Nadal patiently tries to put the winning puzzle back together again. All we know is he has the pedigree and blueprint to pull it off.

Craig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at www.braingametennis.com.

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