Murray Wins Battle Of Brits At Mubadala To Set Up Meeting With Old Rival Nadal

Andy Murray

ABU DHABI/WASHINGTON, December 17, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Throughout the duration of his nearly-90-minute match against fellow Briton Dan Evans at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi Thursday, perhaps – just perhaps – Andy Murray had thoughts of rekindling an old rivalry running through the back of his mind.

The two-time Mubadala champion Murray knew that if he could beat Evans, it would mean that he would get to face an old friend and foe, Rafael Nadal in the next round of the three-day exhibition in the Emirates capital city.

Murray’s 6-3, 6-2 Battle of the Brits victory over Evans, in which he broke his opponent five times and won on his first match-point opportunity, set up a dandy throwback semifinal on Friday against the three-time Mubadala champion Nadal, who has been idle since losing in the third round of the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. in August.

Afterward, the three-time Grand Slam champion Murray, 34, was asked to look ahead to his meeting against his old rival, the 35-year-old Nadal. Both are former World No. 1 players and haven’t faced each other since 2016, when Murray beat Nadal on clay at Madrid.

“I knew if I was going to get the opportunity to play matches like that again, Rafa is someone I’ve had great battles with in some of the biggest tournaments in the world,” Murray said during an on-court interview. Nadal leads their career head-to-head 17-7.

“We’ve played here [in Abu Dhabi] a few times as well. Obviously, he’s had his injury problems as well the last year. It will be great to have the opportunity to play against him again. It will be a lot of fun.

“Hopefully, we can put on a good performance for a couple of old guys.”

Later in press, Murray added: “I did pretty well tonight, It’s quite a different match. These are the sort of matches I want to be playing and the reason why I am still playing is to play in events like this and hopefully to go with a good performance.”

No great expectations for Nadal in Abu Dhabi

During a press conference earlier Thursday, the 20-time major champion Nadal updated the media on his health and well-being. The Spaniard suggested he has placed no great expectations on himself for this week in Abu Dhabi, where he is guaranteed to play two matches – his first competition in four months. The first will be against Murray Friday evening.

“My experience says that things change very quick,” said the World No. 6 Nadal, who has been recovering from a foot injury that forced him to sit out this year’s Wimbledon and US Open.“What today seems impossible or almost impossible nobody knows what can happen in one month. The only thing I want to do or I’m fighting to do is be ready if the situation has a small chance to change and I feel healthy and I’m able to play the tournament before Australia and be there for 20 days before the Australian Open stars and practicing well.

“I have been doing a great job at home, practicing well with the right attitude and intensity, working a lot on my fitness. So, if I’m able to do all these kinds of things because the foot allows me – you never know what’s going on – but today, my expectation is just to try to be there in Australia and be there healthy enough to play the tournament with positive feelings.

“I know it’s going to be super difficult for me. If things are going well, I’m going to be playing only one tournament before Australia and these two matches here. So, the amount of hours on court at the competitive level before such a tough and demanding tournament like Australia will be not much. But the main thing is still always the same, is to be healthy. If I’m healthy, I still have the interior fire to keep going and to fight for my goals.”

Shapovalov wins MWTC opener against Fritz

World No. 14 Denis Shapovalov of Canada needed just 50 minutes to beat No. 23 Taylor Fritz of the United States 6-3, 6-0. The win advanced Shapovalov into Friday’s semifinal round against World No. 5 Andrey Rublev of Russia, who two weeks ago helped his country win the 2021 Davis Cup title in Madrid. It is Shapovalov’s first time playing in the Abu Dhabi exhibition.

Shapovalov was asked during his on-court interview if he felt his game was in a good place after being idle since losing to Tommy Paul in the final of  the Stockholm Open a month ago. “Definitely much better now that I’ve played today. I’m just super happy and happy to be at such a great event,” he said.

Shapovalov saluted the Canadian fans, who seemed to be out in great support for his match against Fritz. “It sounds like a lot of Canadians didn’t want to stay in Canada for the winter. They all came here, I guess,” he quipped.

Fritz will play Evans Friday afternoon in the fifth-place match at 3 p.m. local time (Noon CET), followed by the two semifinal matches: Shapovalov against Rublev (not before 5 p.m. local time, 2 p.m. CET), then Murray versus Nadal (not before 7 p.m. local time, 4 p.m. CET).

Jabeur comes from behind to beat Bencic

World No. 10 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, the first Arab to play in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, recovered from a set down to beat Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, 4-6, 6-3, 10-8, in an hour and 22 minutes.

After losing the first set, Jabeur recovered nicely in the second set and took a commanding 5-0 lead, after breaking the No. 23 Bencic in three consecutive service games. Then, after surrendering two of them back, Jabeur broke Bencic, again, to win the second set. Finally, she won the match tie-break 10-8 on her fourth match-point opportunity.

Competitors on the court and good friends off of it, Jabeur and Bencic were all hugs after the completion of the match that was entertaining and played in the right spirit of an exhibition friendly. It featured plenty of good shot making and plenty of smiles, too. The two shared an on-court interview session together afterward.

Jabeur was asked if she enjoyed the match. “I did but Belinda surprised me with her drop shots also,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting it. She’s stealing my thoughts a little bit!” Jabeur’s comment drew laughter from the crowd gathered at the International Tennis Centre in Zayed Sports City.

Bencic said it was nice to get back on court in a competitive situation. “Yeah, I thought I’m not going to be the only one running today. I wanted to make her move today as well,” she said. “I ran a lot for the drop shots. Hopefully, I won’t be too tired tomorrow.”

Competition aside, Jabeur praised the first-day crowd Mubadala crowd. “Amazing. The crowd is amazing and the energy is perfect,” she said. Bencic concurred and said she’s enjoyed her first visit to the Emirates. “It’s absolutely fantastic. I really love it. It’s amazing to play in front of fans I must say. Thank you!”