Magnificent Nadal rises to Murray’s challenge in Paris

BRITISH No1 Andy Murray’s hopes of banishing his grand slam curse evaporated, for a few weeks at least, in the French Open semi-finals yesterday, where Rafael Nadal demonstrated just why he is called the King of Clay.

Murray strove manfully – as he has all fortnight, despite an ankle injury – but on the crucial points proved no match for defending champion Nadal, who rediscovered his best form to stride into the final 6-4, 7-5, 6-4.

It keeps alive the Spaniard’s hopes of equalling Bjorn Borg’s record of six Roland Garros titles tomorrow when he meets Roger Federer, the first man to beat Novak Djokovic this year, and gave him the perfect present with which to celebrate his 25th birthday.

Murray, meanwhile, should not mope too long given the quality of opponent who ended his own best ever run at the tournament.

The Scot has battled damaged ankle ligaments, a broken tooth and a sore throat during a French Open campaign in which he has had to repeatedly demonstrate his powers of resilience, notably in a five-set clash with Viktor Troicki.

However, yesterday he found an insurmountable obstacle in Nadal, a man who has won 44 of his 45 matches on the red clay of Paris over a seven-year reign of utter dominance.

The musclebound Majorcan had shown only flashes of his customary brilliance on his favoured surface during his run to the last four, even dropping sets in earlier rounds.

Yet he raised his game when Murray demanded it, notably after the Briton had recovered from a poor start to reach the brink of levelling at 5-5 in the first set.

Murray wasted two break points – a recurring theme of the afternoon – and Nadal punished him by claiming the opener.

The second set was a see-saw affair in which both players traded breaks until 5-5, when Nadal saved two more break points and wrapped up the set against an increasingly frustrated and vocal Murray.

A break early in the third set proved sufficient for Nadal to close out as gruelling a straight-sets win as he is ever likely to have in three hours and 17 minutes.