Andy Murray primed for Rafael Nadal French Open semi

By Piers NewberyBBC Sport at Roland Garros
Murray falls to Nadal in final set tie-break at 2010 ATP World Tour Finals

Andy Murray will take his place among the tennis elite on Friday when he faces five-time champion Rafael Nadal on a day of blockbusting semi-finals at the French Open.

The top four seeds have made it through to the last four and the day is fascinatingly poised as each has more riding on the outcome than the considerable prize of a French Open final place alone.

Murray is looking to reach his first Roland Garros final and edge closer to a maiden Grand Slam title; Nadal is trying to match Bjorn Borg's record six French Open titles; Roger Federer wants to win a 17th Grand Slam title, and his first since January, 2010; and then there is Novak Djokovic.

If he beats Federer, the 24-year-old Serbian star will become world number one, match John McEnroe's record for the longest unbeaten start to a year of 42 matches, and move to 44 consecutive wins overall - two behind the record of 46 set by Guillermo Vilas in 1977.

Nadal might have Murray in his sights but even he is intrigued by the other semi-final, saying: "It's the best player of the world today against the best player in history.

"I think both of them have chances to be in the final. Djokovic is playing fantastic, Roger did very well during all this tournament. Roger has enough potential to beat everybody, and you know how good Roger can be in the final rounds of a Grand Slam."

In the first of the semi-finals, fourth seed Murray will have his hands full trying to inflict only the second defeat on world number one Nadal in seven years at Roland Garros.

Murray, who said he planned to watch videos of his previous matches against Nadal in preparation, was at Roland Garros on Thursday for a light practice session and appeared to be moving well after suffering an ankle injury earlier in the tournament.

It was also confirmed that a tooth he broke while eating on Tuesday had been replaced with a temporary filling after Wednesday's quarter-final win over Juan Ignacio Chela.

Nadal has dominated in Paris since 2005, racking up 43 wins and only one defeat, but his aura of invincibility has slipped a little this year with four defeats in a row to Djokovic, and some below-par performances in the early rounds at Roland Garros.

However, Wednesday's straight-sets win over Robin Soderling suggested his best is not far away.

The Spaniard, who turns 25 on Friday, has won 10 of his 14 matches against Murray and all three on clay, but the Scot can take confidence from wins over him at the Australian and US Open.

"Patience is the key when you play Rafa," Murray said in his BBC Sport column. "His ball is very heavy, so it's really difficult to go for shots straight off the bat, you need to work the ball very well and when you get the right opportunity, go for it.

"He's going to make you run, he's going to make you work very hard, and if you're panicking and saying to yourself, 'I've got to finish the point earlier, I've got to go for huge winners earlier in the rallies', it just doesn't work."

Asked if he believes he can beat Nadal, the 24-year-old from Dunblane replied: "Definitely."

It will be the sixth time Murray has played a Grand Slam semi-final and he has gone on to the final three times, but has yet to land that first major title that would bring an end to Britain's 75-year-wait for a male Grand Slam singles champion.

Serbia is another nation on the verge of tennis history as Djokovic attempts to overhaul Nadal for the number one ranking, on the back of one of the most incredible winning runs in the sport's history.

Since losing to Federer at the ATP World Tour Finals in London last November he has won 43 matches in a row - 41 in 2011 - and taken his dominance from hard courts in Australia and the United States on to European clay.

"I think I'm playing really well," Djokovic said after his last match against Richard Gasquet. "And I think I even increased the level since the last match, so I just want to maintain this level."

Djokovic, 24, has had four free days following the withdrawal through injury of Italian Fabio Fognini ahead of their quarter-final, something that could work for or against the Serbian.

Scintilating rally crucial for Nadal

And while he has barely been seen nor heard around Roland Garros since his fourth-round win over Richard Gasquet, Federer - a hugely popular player in Paris - looked on top form as he defeated French hope Gael Monfils.

With 16 Grand Slam titles to his name, the Swiss rarely has to share the limelight, but having lost three times to Djokovic already this year he knows better than most how well the second seed is playing.

"I think he's done really, really well," said the 29-year-old. "He's not making a fuss about it, which is a good thing for him.

Obviously a question remains: How long can you keep it up?

"Now maybe the streak is less at stake in some ways because it's more of a big match against me, so it's easier [for Djokovic] to focus just on playing me instead of the whole situation," said Federer.

"I think the number one situation is the big one right now for him and not so much the streak, but it all goes hand in hand. It's going to be an interesting day."

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