Murray sets up Nadal showdown
Andy Murray will contest the first French Open semi-final of his career after he won a gripping arm-wrestle with Argentinian threat Juan Ignacio Chela on Wednesday.
Murray, operating with damaged ankle ligaments, dealt admirably with the strain his body has been through over the past 48 hours, following a five-set two-day duel with Viktor Troicki in the previous round. Faced with world No. 34 Chela, the Brit triumphed 7-6 (2) 7-5 6-2 to set up a semi-final against Rafael Nadal.
Only once previously had Murray featured in a quarter-final at Roland Garros, back in 2009, and on paper he could not have wished for a more ideal opponent than Chela, a man he had beaten in six of seven previous meetings. The British No. 1 had also defeated his rival during last year's French Open, so all the psychological aces rested with Murray.
However, on this occasion Chela became an irritation as he constantly refused to be swatted away by Murray, who found himself 4-1 down in rapid time early on due to poor shot selection. First the Brit fed the forehand of his rival, who drove a winner to the backhand side to set up break point, and then Murray left a ball in mid-court that Chela sent deep - again to the backhand corner - to gain the first break.
Very quickly it became obvious that Murray had to keep the ball away from Chela's punishing forehand, but knowledge only becomes a weapon if used effectively, and the Scot initially played right into the hands of his opponent, resulting in a swift double-break.
Fortunately for Murray, the one element of his game that stands superior arguably to any other player in the sport is his ability to switch to Plan B. Back-to-back drop shots got Chela moving enough to secure a break back, and then another rescued set point on his own serve with the scores at 3-5.
Soon Murray had another break point - this time for parity in the match, and after he inexplicably sunk his first opportunity into the net, he made no mistake with his second chance to move to 5-5 having trailed 4-1.
Back came Chela, creating two more break chances, again extinguished by yet another glorious backhand drop. Having been pounded into the red dirt early, Murray forced the tiebreaker, which he dominated to clinch a remarkable first set.
It was fitting that Murray led, it was he who had hit 23 winners to Chela's eight, and after a sluggish start it was he forcing his opponent out of his comfort zone. Superiority was confirmed at the beginning of the second when Chela was broken immediately, and then Murray produced the point of the match to save break point on his own serve.
Stranded at the net, the Brit had no option but to volley repeatedly, before Chela thought he had sent up the perfect lob. Murray darted back, spun with both feet off the court and slammed an incredible backhand down the line, advancing to 2-0 in the second.
The world No. 4 was now threatening on every Chela service game, breaking again for 4-1, but in a role-reversal of the first set he then allowed his foe back into it. With Murray serving for the set at 5-4 he sent a backhand long to give Chela his third break of the set - and parity at 5-5. The lottery of a tiebreak beckoned, but Murray found an extra gear to break again, this time serving out with a booming ace.
Chela had played his last hand, his serve looked tired, and Murray rattled a backhand winner down the line for three break points at the start of the third set, converting the first for total control of the match. One more break allowed him to serve for that semi-final with Nadal, which he booked with a drop shot winner.