Andy Murray admits he will have to draw on all his clay-court experience if he is to pull off the shock of the tournament and beat Novak Djokovic in the French Open semi-final.
Djokovic dismantled nine-time champion Rafael Nadal in straight sets on Wednesday, inflicting only the Spaniard’s second defeat in 72 matches at Roland Garros.
The victory was not unexpected given the players’ respective form this year but its manner and margin represented an ominous statement of intent from Djokovic, who has beaten Murray in all of their last seven meetings.
Murray, however, is breaking new ground too, having won maiden clay-court titles in both Munich and Madrid this year before going on to record his first ever victory on clay over Spain David Ferrer on Wednesday to reach the last four.
The Scot has added more variety to his ground-shots and more potency to his second serve, creating a more aggressive approach that currently boasts 15 straight victories on the red sand surface which has often proved his enemy.
It is a far cry from the days of Murray conceding initiative to his opponents and the 28-year-old believes he has matured his game to put himself into a position to compete with the top players.
“Clay is a surface for me where I think, in general, experience helps on this surface,” said Murray.
“A lot of players who maybe didn’t grow up on it tend to have better years the more time they spend on the surface.
“So I feel like obviously this year I played much better tennis on the clay.
“I feel like I understand how I have to play on the surface better than I did in the past, I’m playing much better than I was a couple years ago.”
Murray has never reached the final in Paris but he has twice before made it to the semi-finals, before succumbing to Nadal on each occasion.
The British No 1 beat the Spaniard on clay for the first time in Madrid last month and he admits his results in the build-up to Paris have given him confidence.
“A couple of weeks were important, especially Madrid,” Muray said.
“Munich, maybe not so much, I didn’t beat any big names in Munich but I said it was important for me to win that event.
“Obviously Madrid, the quality of the players I won against there – for me winning against Rafa in a final on clay regardless of how well he’s playing is an extremely difficult thing to do, so that helped.
“Then winning against David here, a player that I have lost against on that same court a few years ago, it was a completely different match this time around.”
Djokovic’s win over Nadal was his 27th in a row but the Serb is desperate to complete a career grand slam in Roland Garros and insists the job is far from complete.
“The ideal scenario is it could have been the final and we could have a different discussion,” Djokovic said.
“But tomorrow is a new day and I have to move on. It’s only quarter-finals and I want to fight for the title.
“That’s what I came here for. I have to direct my thoughts to the semis.”
Djokovic added: “It’s the semi-finals of a grand slam, playing one of the biggest rivals and a guy I have known for a long time, and I’m sure both of us will get on the court with the intention of winning.
“I know his game. I’m going to try to prepare myself well.”
In the other men’s semi-final, France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga takes on Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka.
Tsonga is bidding to become the first French men’s champion since Yannick Noah lifted the famous Coupe des Mousquetaires in 1983.