PARIS, France, Jun 8 – Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal can edge closer to an intriguing French Open final rich in landmark moments on Friday after drastically contrasting campaigns in Paris.
World number one Murray was the first British man in the Roland Garros final since Bunny Austin in 1937 when he finished runner-up to Novak Djokovic last year.
Two more victories, however, starting with his semi-final against 2015 winner Stan Wawrinka, would make him the first Briton to lift the men’s trophy since Fred Perry 82 years ago.
Nadal, who tackles Dominic Thiem, the conqueror of defending champion Djokovic, is bidding to become the first man to capture the same major on 10 occasions.
Murray arrived in France suffering from a fever, the latest woe in a season which has seen him endure an elbow injury, flu and shingles.
“I came in playing garbage,” admitted the 30-year-old of a Masters clay-court swing which saw him exit in the third round in Monte Carlo and Madrid and lose his opener in Rome.
“If someone had offered me a semi-final spot before the tournament, I would have signed up for that.”
His form in Paris has sent out mixed messages.
He needed four sets to get past Andrey Kuznetsov and Martin Klizan in the first two rounds.
Then, in what was expected to be a third-round ambush, he sailed past Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets and was similarly at ease against Karen Khachanov in the last 16.
However, in the quarter-finals, he dropped the first set against Kei Nishikori before his greater stamina proved decisive.
– Nadal favourite –
Nadal, meanwhile, is the hot favourite to collect an unprecedented 10th French Open and 15th career major.
The 31-year-old Spaniard, like Wawrinka and Thiem, hasn’t dropped a set at the tournament.
He should also be the fresher having spent just under eight hours on court through five rounds.
Murray has needed the best part of 14 hours playing time while Wawrinka has been in action for almost 11 hours and Thiem just under 10.
Nadal has dropped just 22 games so far, a figure aided by compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta retiring through injury in the second set of their quarter-final.
Bjorn Borg surrendered just 32 games on his way to the 1978 title, but Nadal insisted he has no interest in such records.
“I don’t know how many games I lost this year, but I really don’t care about this. I only care that I am in the semi-finals,” said Nadal.
“My only goal is try to be ready to play my best. The rest of these things, we can always find behind the stones.”
Wawrinka, like Murray a three-time major winner, has made his trademark understated progress to a third successive Roland Garros semi-final.
The Swiss third seed, at 32, is the oldest man to get to the last four since Jimmy Connors back in 1985.
He trails Murray in head-to-head meetings 10-7 and lost to the Briton in four sets in the semi-finals last year.
Wawrinka has lost 54 games — identical to the figure at the same stage in 2015 when he became champion.
“In the semi-final last year, Andy was really aggressive,” said Wawrinka.
“He was pushing me all the time, so it was tough for me to find any solution.”
Wawrinka, Nadal and Murray in the semi-finals means it’s only the third time that three men over 30 have got to this stage.
It happened at Roland Garros in 1968 and at this year’s Australian Open.
However, Thiem won’t mind being the odd man out.
The 23-year-old Austrian condemned Djokovic to a first straight-sets loss at a major in four years in his stunning quarter-final triumph, avenging his defeat to the Serb in the 2016 semi-finals.
He is the only man this year to have defeated Nadal on clay with his last-eight win in Rome offsetting losses in the final in Barcelona and Madrid.
“It’s going to be the toughest match you can imagine,” admitted sixth seed Thiem, who trails Nadal 4-2 on head to head.