Resurgent Murray retains hope of dethroning king of clay Nadal

Britain's Andy Murray.
Britain's Andy Murray.
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Andy Murray has waited nearly three years for another chance to take on Rafael Nadal at a grand slam and he hopes this time he has the tools with which to beat him.

For a while it seemed Murray could not escape Nadal at the majors. In 2011 – the only previous time the Scot has reached the semi-finals at the French Open – he played Nadal in three successive grand slam semi-finals and lost each time.

The US Open that year was their last match at a slam, while Murray’s victory in Tokyo the following month had been their most recent meeting until they faced off in the quarter-finals in Rome three weeks ago.

Nadal won again, but there was plenty to encourage Murray, who has come out on top twice in their eight slam meetings.

He won the first set 6-1, drilling winners seemingly at will and making Nadal look average on the surface he has dominated.

The Spaniard hit back to level, but Murray led 4-2 in the decider and, had he held serve at that point, he may well have recorded a first win on clay over Nadal.

Murray has always enjoyed facing his former junior rival and will relish what he described as one of the toughest challenges in tennis.

“I definitely learned somethings in that match,” said Murray of his recent Rome meeting with Nadal. “It was quite clear in my head what was working and what wasn’t.

“It’s obviously different conditions here and a different court, different balls and stuff. When we played in Rome it was extremely cold. It was raining and it was wet.

“So conditions change, which makes a match slightly different as well. But there are some things I learned in that match that hopefully I can use to my advantage.”

Both men beat the impending darkness to reach the semi-finals on Wednesday, Murray with a 
bizarre five-set win over Gael Monfils and Nadal from a set down against David Ferrer.

The encouraging thing for Murray is that in his last two matches he has hit the ball as well as at any time since winning Wimbledon, and possibly even better.

He has more rotation on his backhand side after back surgery and that will certainly be the key shot if he is to get the better of Nadal’s phenomenal forehand.

Murray also has the belief that comes from being a grand slam champion. Too often in the past against Nadal at slams he has more than matched his opponent but come out second best on the big points that decide such occasions. In their 2011 clash at Roland Garros, Murray had 18 break points, but took just three.

“I obviously know how to win these tournaments now,” he added. “Back then I didn’t. I was trying extremely hard, but I had never done it.

“So hopefully that will give me a little bit more confidence and belief when I go on the court.”

The main concern for Murray must be whether he is physically ready to take on Nadal on his stage in a best-of-five-set match.

It is only Murray’s second grand slam tournament since his back surgery and it has already been evident that his usual stamina has not yet returned.

Against Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round he struggled with cramp and may well have lost had darkness not come to his aid. Against Monfils, too, he faded badly in the fourth set and was fortunate his opponent made a horrible mess of a fifth set he appeared favourite to win.

The main focus of his day off yesterday was rest and recovery, but whether it is enough remains to be seen.

“We’ll find out on Friday,” said Murray. “I don’t know. It’s a tough question to answer, but I have done decent here so far. I have played some long matches and come through them.”

Nadal took his record at 
Roland Garros to a remarkable 64-1 by coming from a set down to defeat Ferrer. His only defeat at the event came in 2009 against Robin Soderling, bisecting the eight titles he has won.

Nadal will be aware his record makes him a clear favourite to make Sunday’s final, but knows how well Murray is playing on clay, particularly since their recent encounter in Rome.

“Always to play against Andy is a big challenge,” he said. “Always is a pleasure at the same time. I really like him as a person. I think he’s a great guy. He always stays the same. He’s a great competitor.

“It’s great to have him back playing again the semi-final of a grand slam after an injury. I’m happy for him, because he deserved it. It will be a big match and a big challenge for me.”