Seventh-seeded Andy Murray was considered one of the biggest threats to knock off No. 1 Rafael Nadal at the 2014 French Open, but he never posed a challenge as Nadal rolled into the Roland Garros final with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 victory.
The win places Nadal in his ninth career French Open final, where he will have an opportunity to win both his ninth career Roland Garros title and fifth consecutive title in Paris to boot.
In addition to that, Nadal extended his incredible winning streak at the French Open, per Roland Garros on Twitter:
According to Josh Meiseles of ATPWorldTour.com, both Nadal and Murray entered the match with an opportunity to make history:
Murray looking to become the 10th man in Open Era to reach the final at all 4 slams. Nadal seeking to become 2nd man to reach 20 GS finals.— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) June 6, 2014
As has been the case on so many occasions over the past decade, however, it was Rafa who lived up to his "King of Clay" nickname emphatically.
Murray hasn't traditionally had as much success on clay as he has on hard courts and grass, but Nadal made it clear that he didn't intend to take Murray lightly. After the Brit pushed Rafa to the limit at the Rome Masters, Nadal was seemingly wary of his opponent in his pre-match comments:
I'm not surprised Andy is in the semifinals. He's a candidate to win Roland Garros. Before the tournament he was a candidate to win Roland Garros for me, so it's not a surprise. He was playing much better in Rome, I think. It was a very, very tough match against him. A good one for me, too. An important victory for me. ...
It will be a big match and a big challenge for me. I'm going to try my best. I know I have to play very well if I want to have chances to win.
Nadal may have been cautious verbally, but he was aggressive and assertive early in Friday's match. Rafa came out firing and had Murray on his heels throughout much of the opening set.
After holding serve to start the match, Nadal broke Murray with relative ease and essentially forced Murray to make perfect shots in order to get on the board, according to former tennis star Andrew Castle:
Nadal consolidated that 2-0 lead with another hold of serve, which prompted Neil Harman of The Times to marvel at the scintillating Spaniard's form:
Compelling start from Nadal. He has missed one overhead otherwise faultless. Leads 3-0— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) June 6, 2014
Barry Flatman of the Sunday Times chimed in as well, pointing out that Nadal was essentially dictating everything on the Roland Garros clay:
Emphatic is a good word to describe Nadal's start to this semi-final. Murray just stood & watched that last big forehand— Barry Flatman (@Barry_FlatmanST) June 6, 2014
Murray finally picked up a game on serve, but he was already well behind the eight ball after surrendering the early break.
That hold allowed Murray to settle in to some degree, but he and Nadal simply traded two holds apiece, which pushed Nadal to within one game of winning the first set in routine fashion.
Murray did manage to hold once again, which put pressure on Nadal to take advantage of the earlier break and close out the set. That is precisely what Rafa did, and it became immediately apparent that Murray needed to make some adjustments in order to prevent a semifinal rout, per We Are Tennis:
It obviously wasn't the start that Murray envisioned, as he had high hopes leading up to Friday's match in terms of reaching his first career final at Roland Garros.
Murray's road to the semis wasn't quite as straightforward as Nadal's. Murray had to win marathon matches against Philipp Kohlschreiber and Gael Monfils to make it this far, but that didn't cause him to temper his expectations whatsoever, as he told reporters:
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. There's still hopefully a long way to go in the tournament. I obviously know how to win these tournaments now; [in 2011] I didn't. I was trying extremely hard, but I had never done it. So hopefully that will give me a little bit more confidence and belief when I go on the court on Friday.
Murray was already fighting against history in the form of Nadal's career French Open record of 64-1 coming into the match, and the odds were stacked against him even more when he dropped the first set, per Meiseles:
Nadal is 258-5 when winning the first set on clay in the last decade. Only losses in that span: Gaudio, Federer, Zeballos, Djokovic, Almagro— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) June 6, 2014
In addition to that, NBC Sports provided a graphic showing just how much better Nadal has been on clay than Murray over the course of their respective careers, per Lauren Davidson of PolicyMic.com:
Nadal and Murray exchanged holds to start the second set, but Nadal once again pocketed an early break, which put him up a set and a break and tightened his grip on the match, according to Harman:
A sense of inevitability has descended on Chatrier. Nadal breaks to lead 2-1 in 2nd set. One backhand half volley pick-up truly stunning— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) June 6, 2014
A pair of holds made it 3-2 in favor of Nadal, who then held again to take a 4-2 lead. Murray came out flat on his ensuing service game and missed on multiple occasions by wide margins. He seemed totally mystified by Nadal and dropped the serve to fall behind 5-2.
That didn't bode well for Murray, as Nadal had been dominant on serve to that point, per Douglas Robson of USA Today:
Nadal rolling, including 93% of 1st serve points won and no BPs. He leads 63 *52. #rg14— Douglas Robson (@dougrobson) June 6, 2014
Not surprisingly, Nadal once again closed out the set with an exclamation point as he held at love, according to Tennis Now:
That's the fourth love service game of the match for Nadal. He's a rambling wrecking ball.— TennisNow (@Tennis_Now) June 6, 2014
Perhaps the most impressive part of Nadal's performance in the first two sets is that it took him barely an hour to complete them, per BBC's Russell Fuller:
63 62 Nadal leads, in an hour and seven minutes. His forehand is in mint condition and the crowd suspect they'll have the whole evening off— Russell Fuller (@russellcfuller) June 6, 2014
Murray had to know that he could afford to fall behind early in the third set as he had during the previous two, but he was at Nadal's mercy. With the score tied at 1-1, Nadal continued his trend of breaking and demoralizing Murray.
Nadal took a 2-1 lead, with Murray's inability to hit decisive shots playing heavily into that, according to BBC Tennis:
Rafa consolidated with a hold and then broke Murray yet again, which gave him a commanding 4-1 advantage. Nadal was in control in almost every aspect on the match, especially on serve, per Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times:
Not sure what's more shocking, that Nadal has won 40 out of 47 points on serve, or that Murray has only won 7 of 47 points on return. #RG14— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 6, 2014
That carried over to Nadal's next service game, as he went up 5-1 and crept even closer to the final. Murray fought hard on his final service game of the match, but it simply wasn't enough. Rafa broke Murray once more and punched his ticket to the final in grand fashion.
According to Christopher Clarey of The New York Times, the match was simply no contest:
Nadal breaks Murray once more and wins 6-3, 6-2, 6-1. Letdown of a match before Djokovic-Nadal summit meeting on Sunday #RG14— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 6, 2014
Murray would have been a significant underdog in this match regardless of the circumstances surrounding it, but the fact that two of his three matches prior to the semifinal went five sets had to impact his overall energy level.
He looked flat throughout and simply didn't have an answer to Nadal. Rafa dropped just one set entering the match, so he was the fresher of the two players and had a massive advantage on clay to begin with.
There is no shame in losing to a legend like Nadal from Murray's point of view, but his performance left a lot to be desired. The worst part about it is that the effort level didn't seem to be there, which is rarely something that can be said about Murray, if ever.
Who will win the 2014 French Open men's title?
Even with all the question marks and concerns about Nadal prior to the French Open, he has made it to the final yet again without much trouble. This marks his ninth trip to the final at Roland Garros, and he is looking to maintain his perfect record in such situations by winning his ninth career title.
In order to do so, however, Nadal will face arguably his biggest challenge in the form of Novak Djokovic. The spectacular Serb beat Ernests Gulbis in four sets to advance to the final and is playing better than he ever has before on clay.
Djoker beat Nadal at the Rome Masters, so he has momentum on his side and should have plenty of confidence. At the same time, Roland Garros in Nadal's domain, and he won't go down without an epic fight.
Nadal has generally dominated every player on tour, but with a record of just 22-19 against Djokovic, they are basically equals. Nadal is 13-4 against Djokovic on clay, though, so Rafa does have the advantage on this surface.
This has the potential to be the best match of the year and perhaps one of the greatest matches in the history of tennis. Unfortunately, only one man will be crowned champion, but everyone who witnesses it will win in the end.
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