Before Andy Murray took on Rafael Nadal in Rome three weeks ago, few will have given him much chance of making much of a mark against the Spaniard or during the remainder of the clay-court season. After a mental dip following the achieving of his dream of winning Wimbledon and a physical dip after back surgery late last year, Murray has struggled to find his best tennis. And he looked unlikely to rediscover it on what has always been his weakest surface.
Instead, against the greatest clay-court player of all time, Murray won the first set 6-1 in that Rome quarterfinal. While Nadal eventually responded in typical fashion to win the match, Murray has continued his fine form and the two will now meet again in the semifinals of the French Open on Friday. Nadal, for one, is not surprised to see Murray as his opponent in the last four.
“I’m not surprised Andy is in the semi-finals,” Nadal said, according to the ATP Tour website. “He's a candidate to win Roland Garros. Before the tournament he was a candidate to win Roland Garros for me, so it's not a surprise. He was playing much better in Rome, I think. It was a very, very tough match against him. A good one for me, too. An important victory for me.
“It will be a big match and a big challenge for me. I’m going to try my best. I know I have to play very well if I want to have chances to win.”
It has not been plain sailing for the seventh seed en route to his second semifinal at Roland Garros. Having already beaten Philipp Kohlschreiber 12-10 in five sets over two days, Murray only just avoided having an overnight extension to his topsy-turvy quarterfinal with Gael Monfils. After playing excellently to establish a two-set lead, Murray let the home favorite back in. But, in a fifth set played in fading light, Murray proved his mental superiority to steamroll his way to take it 6-0.
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Despite matching his best French Open result and getting his game in good shape ahead of his Wimbledon title defense starting later this month, Murray is far from content with what he has achieved so far.
“It's definitely a big achievement, but that's not what I came here to do,” he said. “My goals are different and my expectations are different to a lot of people. I expect a lot of myself. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well at these events, and thankfully I have done okay so far. There’s still hopefully a long way to go in the tournament.”
Murray knows that the ultimate test in tennis now awaits if he is to progress further. Nadal endured his least successful buildup ever to a French Open, but has breezed through to the semifinals in his attempt to make it nine titles in 10 visits to Roland Garros. The top seed was given his first real test by compatriot David Ferrer in the last round when he dropped the first set. Nadal responded, though, and showed his incredible resolve once more to claim the second set before taking advantage of Ferrer’s collapse to win the final two sets for the loss of just one game.
Ferrer conceded apologetically afterward that he had been sunk by the sheer thought of having to best Nadal over five sets at Roland Garros. It has so far been something that only one man, Robin Soderling, has ever accomplished.
After winning just one title on clay coming into the event, and losing to Novak Djokovic in the final of Rome, Nadal was predicted to have his toughest assignment yet to retain his title. Yet the challenge of battling Nadal’s incredible competitiveness and vicious high-bouncing forehand over five sets remains an ominous task.
Nadal was the opponent in Murray’s previous French Open semifinal, when the man from Mallorca prevailed in straight sets. Indeed, Nadal has won each of the five matches they have played on clay. Murray’s encouraging form and the fact that Nadal has shown a hint of vulnerability which has been absent in previous years, suggests that the Scot could take a set this time around. However, especially with Murray’s heavy workload in recent matches, it is difficult to envisage Nadal allowing him anything more than that.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal to win in four sets.
Where to watch: The French Open semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray is scheduled to get underway after the first semifinal, featuring Novak Djokovic and Ernests Gulbis, which will start at 7 a.m. ET. Coverage will begin on the Tennis Channel, with a live stream available on Tennis Channel Everywhere, before switching to NBC at 11 a.m., when a live stream can be viewed at NBC Sports Live Extra.