This afternoon in Paris two tennis heavyweights go head to head, when Andy Murray takes on ‘king of clay’ Rafael Nadal for a place in the French Open final.
Scotland’s Britain’s finest post-war racket wielder enjoyed memorable years in 2012 and 2013; grabbing his first Grand Slam title at the US Open, winning medals in the Olympic men’s singles (gold) and mixed doubles (silver) and, of course, blowing the roof off SW19’s Centre Court by spanking Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon men’s singles final last year, ending a 77-year home wait for a successor to the great Fred Perry in the process.
Reaching world number two in the rankings, the boy from Dunblane seemed destined to take the top-spot in the latter stages of the season, only for a back injury to flare up, meaning time off post-surgery and emaciated tour point opportunities.
Rafael Nadal knows all about injuries, his knees were famously described by an esteemed surgeon as ‘those of a 45 year-old with severe arthritis’ and are hardly aided by his smash-mouth style of play.
Despite this, the Spaniard returned from his latest injury setback last term and immediately settled into inspired form, reaching 12 finals in his first 13 tournaments back on the circuit and regaining the world number one slot in the process.
More ominous than those facts is his record at Roland Garros, which reads: played 65, won 64, lost 1 (Robin Soderling the only man to defeat him, in 2009) – becoming the only male singles player ever to win the same Grand Slam on eight separate occasions during that period.
So, what hope for Murray? His path to the final has been far from elementary, courageously battling through five-set epics against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber and local favourite Gael Monfils.
With his energy levels certain to be a little depleted, the man who lit up Cliff Richard’s favourite grass courts last season will probably go for broke, attacking from the offset to avoid too many prolonged rallies.
For that reason Andy shouldn’t go down as meekly as he did in a straight sets defeat to Nadal at this stage in 2011 and he could conceivably rip a set from the world number one’s steely death grip, but that’s about it.