I was looking around on youtube for a video clip to add to Mike’s excellent post about Andy Murray’s victory over Rafael Nadal in Abu Dhabi today when I found this 12 minute clip of Murray-Nadal highlights. I don’t know whether it qualifies as an illegal clip or not, but since I’ve watched it I’ll make a few comments.

First a semi-political comment. I’ve heard murmurs that Australia is concerned about losing its slam to Asia and that’s one of the reasons they’ve been furiously upgrading the facilities at Melbourne Park and refitting their country’s Rebound Ace courts with Plexicushion. This week’s exhibition event in Abu Dhabi surely can’t make Australia feel any better about its slam future.

Last year Andy Roddick, Federer, and Murray started the year in Kooyong, an Australian exhibition event. This year six of the top ten players started the year in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Asia, to fight for a winner-take-all prize of $250, 000. I have no hard evidence but I’d bet my house that winner-take-all is a figure of speech here. It takes a hefty appearance fee budget to get six of the top ten players to turn up at your event.

Kooyong, meanwhile, will have two top ten players at its event this year: Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka.

The Abu Dhabi clip starts at 4-4 in the first set and shows Murray breaking Nadal to go up 5-4. The next game is interesting and not just because that’s when I noticed that Nike is shortening Nadal’s shorts inch by inch. They’re still long but they’re clearly above the knee this year. It’s now Murray’s serve and what I found notable was his aggressive net play. He comes to the net on the first four points in the game, two of them serve and volleys, and wins the first set 6-4.

The clip then skips ahead to 4-4 in the second set and now it’s Nadal’s serve. On the first point in the game, Murray runs into the net and puts a Nadal backhand slice away. Nadal may have floated the slice but you don’t see that play every day. I don’t know how fast that surface is in Abu Dhabi but this event is outdoors so it’s not one of those slick quick indoor surfaces.

Murray has reportedly been running himself silly doing offseason conditioning work in Florida and conditioning is essential to mental focus, but he makes errors and loses his serve at 5-6 in the second set to lose the set and his one set advantage.

At 3-3 in the third set, Murray goes to the net only because he had too, but his length and quick hands win him a nifty net exchange with Nadal and give him a break point. On the next point he jams the net again and it takes a tough shot by Nadal to get the ball by him.

Murray eventually wins that game to go up a break and breaks Nadal again to close out the match, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3. This is mainly a tuneup for most players so I don’t think this says all that much for the Australian Open, especially as Nadal has never won it and Federer takes it easy on himself in exhibition events, but damn, am I happy to have some tennis to watch again!

Run Up to the Australian Open

To fan the excitement, here’s the schedule of events leading up to the Australian Open.

Brisbane International – Brisbane, Australia
January 4-11, 2009
Novak Djokovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Fernando Verdasco, Robin Soderling, and Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet, Marcos Baghdatis. Ana Ivanovic, Amelie Mauresmo.

Chennai Open – Chennai, India
January 5-11, 2009
Nikolay Davydenko, Stanislas Wawrinka, Marin Cilic, Ivo Karlovic, Rainer Schuettler, Carlos Moya.

Qatar Exxonmobil Open, Doha, Qatar
January 5-11, 2009
Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Igor Andreev, Dmitry Tursunov, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Mikhail Youzhny.

ASB Classic – Auckland, New Zealand
January 5-10, 2009
Elena Dementieva, Nadia Petrova

Moorilla Hobart International – Hobart, Australia
January 11-16, 2009
Agnes Szavay, Flavia Pennetta.

Medibank International – Sydney, Australia
January 11-17, 2009
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon, David Nalbandian, Tommy Robredo, Richard Gasquet, Lleyton Hewitt. Serena Williams, Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina, Amelie Mauresmo.

Heinekin Open – Auckland, New Zealand
January 12-17, 2009
Juan Martin del Potro, David Ferrer, Robin Soderling, Nicolas Almagro, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Juan Carlos Ferrero.

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