French Open 2014 Men's Semifinals: Nadal vs. Murray Preview and Prediction
Nadal, ranked No. 1 and the reigning champion, takes on Murray, the comeback kid who wants to dethrone the King of Clay.
Standing in his way is Murray, the British bad boy whom French fans love to hate. Many of them booed Murray as he took the court against Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals. Murray shot back a smile. He seems to enjoy the chip on his shoulder. He appears quite comfortable playing the role of spoiler.
Can he spoil Nadal's pending coronation?
With Nadal's run at Roland Garros, the French may be suffering from Rafa fatigue. Regardless, they will hardly be solidly behind Murray.
Although two men's semifinals will be played, this one will determine if history will be made in the final. Either Nadal moves one step closer to legendary status, or someone—one of the three remaining players—wins his first French Open.
Who Has the Historic Edge?
Nadal has an edge over everybody on clay. Murray's last win over Nadal was a walkover in Miami in 2012. The last time he actually defeated Nadal was in 2011, on hard courts, in Japan.
How Nadal Has Looked So Far at Roland Garros
Nadal has had a pretty routine run at Roland Garros. He's only dropped one set.
He's kept unforced errors in check. He's gotten better than 60 percent of his first serves in, in all but his first match (58 percent). If he's shown any sign of weakness, it would be on the second serve. David Ferrer jumped all over Nadal's second serve in the first set.
In that first set against Ferrer, Nadal appeared caught off guard. He seemed headed for a repeat of his loss against Ferrer in Monte Carlo.
The turning point came early in the second set. Nadal, up a break at 3-2, faced three break points. But Ferrer failed to convert. Sensing that he blew his best chance, Ferrer began to fold. Nadal took no mercy on his compatriot and finished him off, winning 12 of the last 13 games of the match.
How Murray Has Looked So Far at Roland Garros
Murray made it through to the semifinals without facing any player in the top 20.
In the third round he nearly lost to Philipp Kohlschreiber in a match that carried over into a second day. Murray defeated Kohlschreiber 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 12-10.
His bizarre match against Gael Monfils was a seesaw affair. Both men won two sets at 6-4, 6-1. After breezing to a two-set lead, Murray began to tighten mentally and physically. Monfils, with the support of a title-starved French crowd, came roaring back to take the third set 6-4 and the fourth set 6-1.
With darkness arriving, Murray—as if pressed for time—finished Monfils off 6-0 in the final set.
Biggest X-Factors in the Semifinal
Murray has a slugger's chance and would have to come out swinging big to take down the King of Clay. How Murray serves will be a big factor in this match.
It's difficult to produce ace after ace on clay. Murray has to hope for drier, faster conditions. And his serve has to be on.
Fitness might also be an issue in this match. In the fourth game against Monfils, Murray looked done. Notorious for appearing far more wounded than he is, Murray seemed tired and in pain.
If Monfils ran him into the ground, then he better inhale some Wheaties to survive Nadal.
Nadal Will Win If...
Nadal has to show up and be...Nadal. C'mon, this guy has ruled Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen as if they were Spanish territories.
Murray will present some problems. It's important for Nadal to solve those problems quickly. He has to snuff out any belief Murray might bring to the match. The mystique that is Nadal on clay is worth at least three games. If he races out to a quick start, even a player as tough as Murray will start to doubt.
Murray Will Win If...
Murray will win if Nadal retires.
Seriously, he's got another shot. Murray has to take a page out of the Ferrer school of thought. Attack Rafa's second serve, take short balls early, use angles and make him pay for hovering on the baseline.
Murray will also need to win some easy points on his serve. The higher his first-serve percentage, the better his chances.
All the pre-tournament talk of Nadal's loosening grip on clay was a bit premature. Despite losses to Ferrer and Novak Djokovic this clay-court season, Nadal remains a dominant force at Roland Garros.
He's dropped just one set, and that was to Ferrer, a guy ranked No. 5. He destroyed the so-called Austrian phenom, Dominic Thiem.
How can you pick against a guy who has won this tournament eight times? It's Nadal on clay. Like Michael Phelps in water, all he does is win, win, win.
And win he will, in straight sets.