Monday 22 May 2017

Tennis: Murray out to dethrone king of clay

Andy Murray celebrates. Photo: Getty Images
Andy Murray celebrates. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Newman

Britain is separated from France by just 20-odd miles of water, but the gulf that cross-Channel venturers have to bridge at Roland Garros is usually as wide as an ocean.

Seventy-four years after a Briton last reached the final of the French Open, Andy Murray will attempt to match Bunny Austin's achievement of 1937 when he plays in tomorrow's semi-finals. The only problem is that the man standing in his path is arguably the greatest clay-court player in history.

Murray will take on world No 1 Rafael Nadal after both players won their quarter-finals in straight sets yesterday. Murray, making light of the torn ankle tendon that had threatened his participation in the tournament, beat Argentina's Juan Ignacio Chela 7-6 7-5 6-2, and Nadal was too good for Sweden's Robin Soderling, the only man to have beaten him in his previous 43 matches on these courts, winning 6-4 6-1 7-6.

Ensured

The results ensured that the top four men would meet in the last four of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time for five years.

In the other semi-final Novak Djokovic will attempt to extend his extraordinary six-month unbeaten run of 43 matches when he takes on Roger Federer.

Murray, who has now reached the semi-finals of all four Grand Slam tournaments, has lost 10 of his 14 meetings with Nadal, though the Spaniard, who turns 25 tomorrow, often brings the best out of him. Murray beat him at the 2008 US Open and 2010 Australian Open, and took him to three sets on clay at Monte Carlo two months ago.

"It will be a very tough match for me," Nadal said last night. "In Rome Andy played a fantastic match against Djokovic in the semi-finals. He came closer to beating him than anybody else this year and he has played great here."

If Murray's win over Chela was ultimately emphatic enough, it was a topsy-turvy match, featuring 13 breaks of serve and almost as many shifts of momentum, although Murray never looked in serious danger against an opponent he had beaten in their six previous encounters, including matches here in 2009 and 2010.

Murray started as if he believed he could out-rally Chela and tire him out with drop shots and rapid changes of pace, but the Scot made too many unforced errors, enabling Chela to break twice and take a 4-1 lead.

Murray reduced the arrears to 5-3, but had to save two set points in the following game, the second with a wonderful angled winner after chasing down a drop shot. Chela squandered another set point in the next game with a double fault and was comprehensively outplayed in the tie-break, which Murray won 7-2.

When Murray took a 4-1 lead in the second set, he appeared to be in total control, but there were six breaks of serve in seven games before an ace gave him the set 7-5.

The final set went more smoothly, Murray breaking in the first and seventh games before sealing victory on his first match point in characteristic fashion with a drop-shot winner.

Nadal, who is attempting to become only the second man in history to win this title six times, took another step towards matching Bjorn Borg's achievement with his most convincing performance here so far this year.

After his previous victory over Ivan Ljubicic, the world No 1 had said he was not playing well enough to defend his title. However, he was much more like his old self against Soderling, who beat him here in the fourth round two years ago.

Although Soderling broke serve twice, there were periods when the world No 5 was played off the court.

Nadal, who dropped more games (53) in reaching the quarter-finals here than on any previous occasion, had been hitting the ball short in his earlier matches, but found a much better length and greater consistency against the Swede, who attempted in vain to out-rally the king of clay from the baseline. (© Independent News Service)

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