For a moment, something peculiar seemed afoot at Roland Garros: Rafael Nadal was losing a match.
Going up against David Ferrer, the King of Clay dropped the first set of what originally looked to be a nondescript quarterfinal matchup, 4-6. Suddenly, eyebrows began to curl like the McDonald's arch, and an unmistakable buzz started to flow throughout Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Was Nadal's injured back, which noticeably slowed down his serve earlier in the tournament, more than he was letting on? Was Ferrer, who defeated Rafa on the red court just six weeks earlier in Monte Carlo, finally figuring out his compatriot? Was the eight-time French Open champion simply bored out of his mind?
Many, such as The New York Times' Christopher Clarey, began whispering about a potential upset:
Then, Nadal entered Hulk mode. Also known as You-Wouldn't-Like-Me-When-I'm-Angry mode. Also known as Andy-Murray-Is-Going-To-Hate-You-For-Waking-Me-Up mode.
It took Nadal just 19 games—6-4, 6-0, 6-1—to win the next three sets. After leading 5-4 in the second set, he reeled off 10 consecutive games and 13 of the last 14, beating both Ferrer and the oncoming sunset in what was an absolutely dominant showing.
He still couldn't help but focus on that first set.
"Well, I think at the beginning David was playing with a higher intensity than me," he told reporters, via ESPN.com's Greg Garber. "Is true that I started first two points playing well, but then I make a lot of mistakes with my backhand. Amazing with how much mistakes I had with my backhand today."
Now, you don't become one of the greatest players of your generation by ever competing at less than 100 percent. But considering Nadal's near perfection at Roland Garros, could you really blame him if he took his foot off the gas and shifted into neutral every once in a while?
After his win Wednesday, he is now 64-1 at the French Open. He has streaks of 31 straight wins and now 33 straight wins. He has dropped just 19 sets throughout his entire career at the famed Paris tournament.
So, yeah, there's likely a time or two where he doesn't exactly treat every game—or even set—like it's a Grand Slam final.
But after the first-set wake-up call against Ferrer—in which he hit just six winners to a whopping 15 unforced errors—you can bet there will be no more mental lapses and certainly no more slow starts.
That's bad news for Murray, his semifinal opponent.
The 27-year-old Scotsman is already a big-enough underdog as it is. The French Open has long been his worst major—this marks just his second semifinal trip there, while he has three, four and five in the other majors, respectively—and he is coming off a draining five-set roller-coaster win over Gael Monfils.
Still, as he told reporters, via ATPWorldTour.com, he believes he has unfinished business:
It's definitely a big achievement, but that's not what I came here to do. I expect a lot of myself. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well at these events, and thankfully I have done okay so far. Still hopefully a long way to go in the tournament.
Really, the world No. 8 ranking for Murray doesn't accurately depict what he brings to the table. He is just now starting to regain his Grand Slam-winning form after undergoing back surgery last year, and when on top of his game, he can beat anyone in the world.
Except a focused Nadal inside his fortress, that is.
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