French Open 2015: Andy Murray hits new heights in clay conquest of David Ferrer

Briton sees off Spaniard in four sets for first win over top-10 rival in Paris but must risk unbeaten run against Novak Djokovic

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The Independent Online

His semi-final against Novak Djokovic will provide the ultimate test but for the moment there is no stopping Andy Murray. The 28-year-old Scot beat David Ferrer 7-6, 6-2, 5-7, 6-1 at the French Open here to claim his 15th clay-court victory in a row, which equals his longest winning streak on any surfaces.

In becoming the first British player ever to reach three singles semi-finals here, Murray equalled Fred Perry’s British record of 28 match wins at Roland Garros. The world No 3 also became only the sixth man in the Open era – after Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic – to make the semi-finals at all four Grand Slam tournaments on three or more occasions. He is now through to his 16th Grand Slam semi-final, which puts him only one behind Bjorn Borg on the all-time list.

If Murray needed confirmation that this has been his breakthrough year on clay it came with his first victory over a top-10 opponent at Roland Garros, which followed three previous defeats. Ferrer, a former runner-up at this tournament, had beaten Murray in all four of their previous meetings on clay, including their quarter-final here three years ago. The 33-year-old Spaniard, who is the world No 8, is one of the sport’s best players on clay, having won 12 of his 24 titles on the surface.

Murray has only just won his first two clay-court titles, but the world No 3 took control of the match after winning a first set which featured six breaks of serve. The Scot was broken when he served for the set at 5-4 and saved two set points at 5-6 before winning the ensuing tie-break 7-4, though he failed to take his first three set points after making backhand errors on each occasion.

From 0-40 down in his first service game of the second set Murray played superbly, dictating the play with some splendid ball-striking. He went 3-0 up in the third set, which featured the first point he could ever remember losing under the “hindrance” rule. The umpire judged that Murray had put off Ferrer with his sigh of exasperation when the Scot thought – wrongly – that he had hit a backhand long.

Ferrer, who finished with 11 double faults to Murray’s two, saved a match point with a smash when serving at 4-5, broke in the following game and then served out for the third set. Murray responded in the best possible fashion by racing into a 5-0 lead in the fourth set. Ferrer saved another match point in the following game but Murray finally served out for victory after three hours and 16  minutes.

Murray and Djokovic are the only two players who are undefeated on clay this year. Djokovic has won 18 of their 26 meetings, including the last seven in a row, but they have met only twice on clay, the Serb winning on both occasions, in Monte Carlo in 2008 and in Rome in 2011.

“He has improved on clay, no doubt about it,” Djokovic said. “Here he’s been playing some really good tennis. He’s moving better, serving very well, and he always had a touch, one of the best ground strokes in the game.”

Murray said he derived confidence from his clay-court form this year and particularly from his victories over Nadal in last month’s Madrid Masters final and over Ferrer here. “Both of us are going into the match feeling confident,” he said.

The Scot played his first two matches on Court Philippe Chatrier but has played his last three on Court Suzanne Lenglen, the second of the show courts. Djokovic reached the semi-finals by beating Nadal on Chatrier.

Asked if he thought  Djokovic might have trouble lifting himself again after such a landmark victory, Murray said: “I  don’t think there are any negatives that you can have from winning against someone who has won this event nine times and  beating them in straight sets. I’m not buying that that can be negative in any way.”

He added: “The keys are always pretty much the same. We have only played once or twice on the clay. Last time we played I think was in Rome, and I served for the match there and played some good tennis. It’s going to be a tough match. I’m going to have to come up with a good game plan and try to stick to it throughout, which is something that I feel like I have done pretty well the last couple of months.

“Going into the match having not lost on clay this year and having some big wins on the surface is important for me. I will just keep doing what I have been doing: have a good practice tomorrow, recover, and come up with a good game plan.”