Eight-time champion Rafael Nadal defeated compatriot David Ferrer as well as the Paris gloom on Wednesday to reach his ninth French Open semi-final where he will face Wimbledon champion Andy Murray.
The world number one recovered from dropping his first set of the tournament to record a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 win while seventh-seeded Murray defeated home hope Gael Monfils 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 1-6, 6-0.
Murray lost to Nadal in the Roland Garros semi-finals three years ago and has never beaten him on clay. However, he did take a set off the top seed in Rome last month.
Wednesday’s win took the 28-year-old Nadal’s record in Paris to 64 victories and just one loss and extended his mastery over his 32-year-old Spanish Davis Cup teammate to 22 victories against just six defeats.
He did it in some style, reeling off 13 of the last 14 games before the sun set.
“When you play David on any surface, it’s always tough and he’s having a great season,” said Nadal of a man who beat him in Monte Carlo in April, one of three losses the top seed suffered on European clay this spring in a 10-year low.
“But I was more aggressive after the first set and maybe he did not have the best of matches as it went on.”
He added: “I was making too many mistakes with my backhand, it was appalling. But when I used my forehand more, it changed the dynamic.”
Ferrer was left to regret another lost opportunity.
“I was not good enough. I lost my focus. I was too slow, and I think I didn’t play the game of a top 10 player.”
After not getting on court until just before 1900 local time (1700GMT) as rain delayed the programme by three hours, Nadal looked doomed to have to return on Thursday to complete his quarter-final ahead of a Friday semi-final.
But after losing the first set, firing twice as many errors against the man he defeated for the loss of just eight games in last year’s final, the world number one carved the only break of the second to level the contest.
– Race against sunset –
Nadal raced through the third set as the sun started to fade courtesy of three breaks of serve and no unforced errors.
He was 3-0 up in the fourth, a run of 10 straight games, before Ferrer stopped the rot.
It was a brief respite however as back came Nadal with another break and a 4-1 lead.
He held comfortably before breaking a dispirited Ferrer for the ninth time of the match.
The statistics were telling.
Nadal ended with 20 unforced errors but just three of those came in the last two sets while Ferrer, who hit a meagre six errors in the opening set ended the contest with 42.
The Spaniard, who is bidding to be the first man to win five French Opens in succession, has 14-5 career lead over Murray.
Murray turned in a stellar, 24-minute fifth set to snatch victory on Philippe Chatrier court in a match which was finally wrapped up at 21h40 local time (1940GMT).
“The conditions were tough, it was very windy and slow, heavy and he moves so well around the court, probably the best of anyone on the Tour,” said Murray.
Murray reached the last four at Roland Garros for the first time since 2011 when he lost against Nadal.
“Well, he has very good memories on this court,” Murray joked about the Spaniard.
“Right now, I’m just very happy to be in the semi-finals and I’m going to try and play my best tennis.”
The 27-year-old Scot also set a new British record of reaching 14 Grand Slam semi-finals, going one better than Fred Perry.
The other semi-final on Friday will feature world number two Novak Djokovic, who needs a Roland Garros title to complete a career Grand Slam, against Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis.