When Rafael Nadal faces Andy Murray in a French Open semifinal, it will be a must-watch match for all of the obvious reasons. Both are top players in the world today, and the two of them have won five of the last eight Grand Slam titles.
But this match is also tantalizing for a different reason altogether—these two rarely do battle these days.
While they met in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open—Nadal won a heck of a match—it was the first time they had actually played a match against one another since 2011. Yes, you read that correctly—the two haven't played against one another since 2011 (they were supposed to face off in the semifinals of the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open, but Nadal pulled out due to an injury).
The borderline absurdity of these two playing just once in the past three years gets even wackier, as Chris Chase of USA Today notes:
Murray and Nadal will face each other in a Friday semifinal at the French Open, ensuring that one of them will reach a major final for the 18th consecutive time. The last Slam final that didn’t feature either player was in 2009, when Juan Martin Del Potro beat Roger Federer to win the U.S. Open.
But over those 18 major finals, Nadal and Murray have never played each other. Friday’s meeting will be their sixth in a quarterfinal or semifinal, but it’s never been Nadal vs. Murray with a Slam on the line. Given the 4+ years of major finals that have included one of them, that’s crazy.
It really is. At a time when the men's game has been defined by the top four of Nadal, Murray, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer facing off in epic duel after epic duel, it's bizarre that we've essentially been deprived of Nadal vs. Murray.
It wasn't always this way. From 2008-11, they faced each other 16 times. Nadal has generally gotten the better of Murray, with a 14-5 record against him all time, a 6-1 record against him in Grand Slams and a 5-0 record against him on clay. In 2011 alone, Nadal beat him in the semifinals of the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open.
But that, of course, was before Murray finally broke through and won a Grand Slam. That was before Murray took the final step and truly entered the elite class in men's tennis. And that was before Murray seemed to make his peace with the clay as he's done thus far in the French Open, a surface that has confounded him in the past.
Murray will take some confidence in the fact that he pushed Nadal in Rome, as he told Piers Newbery of BBC Sport:
I definitely learned some things in that match. It was quite clear in my head, as well, what was working and what wasn't.
Conditions change, which makes a match slightly different, but there are some things I learned in that match that hopefully I can use to my advantage on Friday.
He also knows he's a far different player than the one that faced Nadal at Roland Garros in 2011.
"I obviously know how to win these tournaments now; back then I didn't. Hopefully that will give me a little bit more confidence and belief when I go on the court on Friday."
This just has all of the makings of an epic matchup. Maybe it's that Nadal struggled in the clay season this year, even if he's lost just one set thus far at Roland Garros. Maybe it's that Murray is a far different player than he was the last time these two met at the French Open.
Or maybe it's simply that we rarely get to see these two play these days. Pick your reason for watching, but make sure you don't miss this match.
It should be special.