Rafael Nadal vs. Andy Murray: Keys for Each Side at French Open 2014 Semifinals

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistJune 4, 2014

ROME, ITALY - MAY 16:  Andy Murray of Great Britain congratulates Rafael Nadal of Spain after he won in three sets during day six of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia tennis 2014 on May 16, 2014 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Although there were some upsets in the early rounds at the French Open, fans will be treated to an exciting semifinal at Roland Garros when Rafael Nadal takes on Andy Murray.

Nadal comes into the match looking to build off his incredible resume at this event. In nine previous appearances, he has eight titles and only a single loss. He has proven that he is the best in the world on clay and it would take a perfect match for anyone to beat him.

However, Murray is not afraid of a little competition.

After years of disappointments in major tournaments, he is now halfway to a career Grand Slam and is looking to win his third in Paris. He has clearly recovered from injuries that limited him in the past and is ready to contend for another title.

These are two of the best players in the world, and they each have a chance to move into the finals if they follow these keys to victory.


Rafael Nadal

Get Ready for a Challenge

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 04:  Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates victory in his men's singles quarter-final match against David Ferrer of Spain on day eleven of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 4, 2014 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Ima
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

If there is a time to beat Nadal, it is early in the match before he is truly ready to dominate. David Ferrer got the early advantage against the No. 1 seed in the quarterfinals when he won the first set 6-4.

Nadal made 15 unforced errors to only six winners in that set, the first one he lost in the entire tournament.

The same thing happened when Murray and Nadal battled at the Rome Masters last month. Murray surprised everyone with a 6-1 victory in the first set before Nadal got back on track to win.

Obviously, Nadal is well aware of what his upcoming opponent can do. He gave credit to Murray in his press conference before the semifinals, via Roland Garros' official Twitter account:

However, knowing that there will be a tough battle is different than actually preparing for one. The Spanish star cannot afford to lose a winnable set that could put him in a hole going forward. This time, he might not be able to get out of it.


Convert Break Points

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 04:  Rafael Nadal of Spain returns a shot during his men's singles quarter-final match against David Ferrer of Spain on day eleven of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 4, 2014 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Ima
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

While every point is important in a match like this, the break points will be even bigger. Putting an opponent on the ropes is not enough—you have to make sure to finish him.

As commentator David Law notes, this was a big story the last time these two met here:

This was a big difference in the quarterfinal match as well. Nadal was able to win nine of his 14 breaks in the victory while Ferrer could only manage to go 3-of-14 in these situations. Similarly, Gael Monfils let Murray get away by winning only four of his 13 attempts for a break in the quarterfinals.

Monfils was set to come back from being down two sets when he won the next two, but he had a miserable showing in the fifth set and lost with a bagel. As ESPN's Chris Fowler joked, Murray was just bluffing:

In reality, Murray was able to regain confidence with his first few wins in the fifth set.

Nadal has to make sure that the British star does not gain any momentum by winning big points, and that starts with converting as many break attempts as possible.


Andy Murray

Remain Aggressive on Second Serve

The general thought process for those who miss on the first serve is to slow things down to make sure the second one stays in play. However, Murray has to change this mindset to find a way to win this next match.

Nadal has a legendary ability to crush an opponent's second serve. In 2014, he leads all players on tour with a 57 percent winning percentage on these points. When opponents take it down a notch, Nadal is ready to eat it up.

Instead of playing into his strategy, Murray has to remain aggressive and make his second shots close to as good as his first. This will obviously lead to more double faults, but it will bring him more success overall.

In four of his five matches in this tournament, Murray has topped his season mark of 52 percent of wins on his second serve. The other one was a five-set win against Philipp Kohlschreiber that featured 10 aces.

Being cautious will not help him in this difficult matchup. The only way to win is to be aggressive, and that starts with playing well on his second serve.


Have Confidence to Win

Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

Most people assume they do not have a chance to win when they step on the court against Nadal. Although in most cases the challenger is correct, Murray is not like most players.

The British star has had some success against Nadal in his career, winning five times—including twice at Grand Slams. The last time these two met was at the Rome Masters, which featured Murray getting out to an early lead before Nadal won the final two sets in dramatic fashion to advance.

Despite the loss, Murray had plenty of confidence after the match, via Courtney Nguyen of Sports Illustrated:

Tonight was probably the best I’ve hit the ball for a while and it’s the best I’ve felt physically since the surgery. I was starting to get there the last couple of weeks, but the beginning of the year was tough for me in that respect. I feel like now I’m hitting the ball cleanly.

Tonight I didn’t have negative thoughts through the whole match. The first two days even if I fought a lot I had some doubts.

He has to go into this match with a similar mindset. If Murray believes he can challenge the best in the world, he will be able to have plenty of success in this contest.


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