February 15, 2009

Three in a Row

There aren't many people that can boast a winning record against world #1 Rafael Nadal.

Roger Federer certainly doesn't. James Blake, somewhat surprisingly, holds a tenuous 3-2 lead. Joachim Johansson notched a win in their only meeting over two years ago. And Lleyton Hewitt comes close, splitting their eight matches down the middle.

And now Andy Murray is trying to join that very elite group. He already has a 5-2 record against Federer, and after this week's final in Rotterdam, he's gaining on Nadal, having won their last three match-ups. The first triumph came famously at last year's U.S. Open, then there was his win at the Capitala Exhibition in January. His latest victory gave him his tenth career title, his second of the year, and 500 more ATP ranking points.

Given the excitement over Nadal's historic performance in Melbourne, it was easy to forget that Murray had been the one with all the momentum in 2009 and was actually favored to win his first major this month. And, if this week's performance was any indication, he was the one who rebounded better. Even before sustaining an injury in the second set, Rafa hadn't had the smoothest road to the finals in the Netherlands -- he'd dropped a set in each of his first three matches and struggled through Gael Monfils in the semis. Andy on the other hand only lost one set to Marc Gicquel, who eventually retired in the third round and now holds an impressive 12-1 record on the season, rivalling Elena Dementieva's near-perfect mark.

After this week's results I'm beginning to wonder if we haven't seen the seeds sown for a new rivalry in men's tennis -- Roger may have conceded a little ground in Melbourne, and Nadal and Murray are probably the hottest players on tour right now. And while I do admit I hope for a reversion to times when Nadal was back on top, I do look forward watching their next battle.

It could be another epic.

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