WITH the clay court circuit of the tennis season underway and the French Open looming, all of the top tennis players are getting their clay feet and looking ahead to the forthcoming Madrid Open which begins on Friday. And for the past two days the world number two, Andrew Murray, and world number elven, the Canadian Milos Raonic, have been training on the excellent clay courts at the Palma Sports & Tennis Club with Raonic’s Majorcan coach, Carlos Moya.
"I was training in Barcelona but Carlos said that he was going to be here training with Milos and that even Rafa (Nadal) might be joining us. So, with the conditions and the weather being far better here than in London, I decided to come to Palma. It has helped me adapt to the surface - clay - and also acclimatize myself for Madrid. Plus being here training with some of the top players in the world all together is great."
Murray, who was knocked out of the Montecarlo Open in the semifinals by Rafael Nadal, knows that he needs to get on top of his clay game.
"The way Rafa has been playing on clay over the past few weeks has been immense, he is a phenomenon and in Montecarlo he demonstrated that he is getting back to playing his best tennis. Now we’ve got Madrid, Rome, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, so it’s going to a very intense few months," Murray said while posing for pictures with fans and signing autographs at the club.
"One has to remember he has dominated Roland Garros and clay for ten years, so it’s obvious at some point you’re going to have a bad day or lose a bit of form, it’s only natural. The body can only put up with so much. That is why I’ve taken a slow start to the season, I don’t want to do too much with a very busy and demanding few months coming up. Apart from the tournaments, I’ve got Davis Cup action plus the Olympics in Rio.
"This year is a very long season and I’ve decided to pace myself, that’s why I took a few days off after Montecarlo to let my body relax and recover."
"Especially with Rafa finding his form again, he is always going to be the favourite at Paris. But there are a lot of tough players on the circuit now, so over the next few weeks we’ve all got to see how we make it to France, what conditions we get through the build up in. Rafa is going to be as dangerous as ever. In Montecarlo, apart from me, he beat some of the top players, so I would disagree with those who claim that we’ve seen the best of him, there’s more to come from Rafa.
"And it’s great being able to train with Carlos. I first trained with him when I was 15 and he was such a nice and kind guy. When I first went on the ATP tour, he was always talking to me, keeping an eye on me and I will always remember that; it was very important to me. So when he called and invited me over to Majorca, it was a chance not to miss. I really like him a lot and he too has done a lot for tennis over the years, he’s one of the greats."
Carlos Moya has been working since the start of the year with Raonic. "It’s a fantastic balance we have, very positive. We have different mentalities. I come from a massive city with loads of stress, while Carlos comes from a different lifestyle here in Majorca. This really helps to calm me down, it helps me to concentrate, so he’s really having a positive influence on me by being part of my training team," Raonic said.
And he too fancies Rafa’s chances this year. "He’s always got to be a favourite but I think what Rafa needs is a showdown with Djokovic and if he wins, that will give Rafa the confidence boost he needs this season. Rafa knows how to live and play on the edge and he’s got that back, so we need to see him face off with Djokovic."