French Open 2014: Andy Murray digs deep to beat Gael Monfils and set up the semi-final with Rafael Nadal
Scot sets up Roland Garros semi-final against Rafael Nadal
Andy Murray has not lost a Grand Slam match from two sets up since he made his Centre Court debut at Wimbledon nine years ago but the Scot had to produce one of his grittiest comebacks to maintain that record here last night.
A remarkable French Open quarter-final ended in near darkness at 9.41pm local time with Murray beating Gaël Monfils, the local hero, 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 1-6, 6-0. After the Frenchman had levelled at two sets apiece, to the raucous delight of his home crowd, it seemed that he might be carried to victory on a wave of Parisian passion, but Murray held firm to play a brilliant deciding set.
With the light fading fast the match looked likely to spill over into a second day, but Murray dropped just seven more points to take the final set in only 24 minutes and complete his second five-set victory of the week. He will be grateful for a day of rest before facing Rafael Nadal in tomorrow's semi-finals.
Nadal, who beat Murray on the only other occasion when the Scot reached the semi-finals here three years ago, booked his place in the last four when he beat David Ferrer 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 in a repeat of last year's final.
"He has got good memories on this court so it will be a very tough match," Murray said as he looked forward to facing the eight-times champion. "I will have to recover well and try to be as fresh as I can be."
Although the crowd were in full voice in the closing stages, as the chant of "Gaël! Gaël!" rang around Court Philippe Chatrier, Murray had done a splendid job in keeping them quiet for the first two sets. Frustrating Monfils by pulling him to all corners of the court, Murray won some of his games in near silence.
After rain had fallen for most of the day, it was 6.25pm by the time Murray hit the opening serve in his first appearance this year on the main show court. The sun was out, but by the second set more than half the court was in shadow. There was a stiff breeze and, with the temperature just 13C, organisers might have been tempted to offer mulled wine rather than chilled Chablis in the hospitality suites.
Murray began in confident mood, winning the first three games, only for Monfils to level at 3-3. When the Frenchman served at 4-5 he saved a first set point but could do little about the second as Murray followed up a thumping backhand into a corner with a forehand winner.
Monfils is one of the game's great talents, but one of the reasons why he has never lived up to his potential is his inconsistency. The world No 28 cut a forlorn figure as Murray totally outplayed him in the second set. The Scot raced into a 5-0 lead and was 40-0 up on Monfils' serve in the next game only to give the Frenchman a brief reprieve when he let slip seven break points before taking the set 6-1.
Monfils hung on in the opening game of the third set, saving three break points. When he hit a huge forehand winner on the first point of the next game he became animated for almost the first time, encouraging his supporters to turn up the volume.
As the crowd found their voice, Monfils found his form. When Murray served at 4-5 Monfils wasted two set points with wild forehands but on the third his thumping return forced Murray into an error.
Murray was beginning to show signs of fatigue, as he had three days earlier in his marathon victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber. From 1-1 in the fourth set he lost five games in a row. Murray might have been hoping that the weather would intervene, but the tournament referee, Stefan Fransson, walked on court to tell him that the match would continue.
The only time Murray has lost a Grand Slam match after winning the first two sets was against David Nalbandian at Wimbledon in 2005. As he prepared for the deciding set here he found himself in the same situation he had been in two years ago in the final of the US Open against Novak Djokovic. On that occasion the Scot regrouped after losing the third and fourth sets and went on to claim his first Grand Slam title. Just as he did then, he was focused from the start of the deciding set here.
After holding serve in the opening game Murray bellowed out a scream of "Come on!" Some home supporters did not appear to appreciate that and they liked it even less when the Scot started fist-pumping after breaking serve in the second game. Monfils played poorly, but Murray hardly missed a ball in the last set. "I was just lucky at the end that he started the fifth set badly," Murray said.
However, that was a modest assessment. As he has shown so many times in the past, Murray is some fighter when his back is against the wall.
Lifetime achievement award for Baltacha
Elena Baltacha, who died of liver cancer last month, became the first player to be honoured with a "Fed Cup Heart" lifetime achievement award from the International Tennis Federation at Roland Garros yesterday.
Judy Murray, Britain's Fed Cup captain, received the award. Baltacha's husband and coach, Nino Severino, also attended the ceremony. The ITF donated $10,000 (£6,000) to the "Rally for Bally" appeal, which supports the Elena Baltacha Academy in Ipswich.
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