Murray bullish as he sets out to seize the chance of a lifetime

Nadal will offer the ultimate test of the British No 1's improvement this afternoon

It was a perfect lob, but with Andy Murray's speed around the court there was never a doubt that he would retrieve it. The Scot got to the ball in good time, turned and even had time to assess where his opponent was. Steadying himself, he won the point by lashing the ball back over the net with his right foot. Even when Murray is playing football tennis as a warm-up at the start of a training session, there is no mistaking the 23-year-old Scot's competitive spirit.

Team Murray were out in force yesterday on Court 16 at Aorangi Park, with Liam Broady, a British junior, giving the world No 4 a reminder of what it is like to face a left-hander. Not that Murray is short of experience against Rafael Nadal, his opponent in this afternoon's Wimbledon semi-finals: they have met 10 times as professionals, including four times in Grand Slam tournaments, and have known each other since their early days on the junior circuit.

On the face of it, their second meeting at the All England Club – Nadal won in straight sets two years ago – could be regarded as a mismatch. Nadal, one year older at 24, has won 40 titles and $31.2m (£20.7m) in prize money, compared with Murray's tally of 14 and $11.2m (£7.4m). Nadal has won seven Grand Slam titles and Murray none, having lost to Roger Federer in the final at both the 2008 US Open and the 2010 Australian Open. Nadal has reached three Wimbledon finals, winning one, while Murray's best performance was his run to last year's semi-finals.

Nadal also has the edge in their head-to-head record, having won seven of their 10 matches, though it is their recent meetings that may give Murray his greatest cause for optimism today. The Scot's victories in both the 2008 US Open semi-finals (his first success against Nadal in their sixth meeting as professionals) and this year's Australian Open quarter-finals (when Nadal retired with a knee injury when two sets and 3-0 down) were arguably the best performances of his career.

Murray also believes that his defeat to Nadal here in 2008, following his five-set victory over Richard Gasquet in the previous round, was a key moment in his career. "I remember being quite tired and my body being quite sore," Murray commented. "I didn't have any chances in the match at all. It was a big turning point for me because after that I realised that to win a Grand Slam you have to be fit to play seven five-set matches, and not just one big match and then be spent after that.

"I went away and practised really hard and improved my game as well, so obviously I needed to get a lot better. It was a good learning experience for me because I needed to improve a lot."

What did Murray remember of his wins over Nadal in New York two years ago and in Melbourne this year? "After I lost to him here in 2008, I practised hard, hitting the ball harder and spending more time in the gym, and I managed to beat him for the first time at the US Open.

"I played him at the Aussie Open this year and it was some of the best tennis I've played. There were some great rallies and great points in that one. Unfortunately he couldn't finish the match because of injury. My game is a lot better than it was in 2008, and I'm sure he has improved as well, so it will be a very different match."

Murray has been criticised in the past for playing too passively, but there should be no danger of that today. The Scot has enjoyed his best successes against Nadal by attacking, moving forward and, on occasions, playing serve-and-volley. He will need to make the right judgments about when to attack the net, but at the same time he knows that the Spaniard likes nothing better than a slugging match from the back of the court.

Nadal can volley beautifully and his improved backhand slice can be an effective stroke on grass, but his default mode is always to play aggressively from the baseline. "I don't want to change a lot of things," Nadal said. "I'm happy with how I'm playing, so I'll try to play my game, which is to try to play aggressively. It's important to serve well. So every day is the same."

Until they arrived here a fortnight ago, the two men had enjoyed contrasting fortunes since the Australian Open. While the Scot did not reach a semi-final in any of his eight appearances in the intervening period, Nadal made a clean sweep of the four biggest clay-court tournaments, including the French Open, and reclaimed his world No 1 ranking.

Both went out comparatively early at the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club in their only grass-court event before Wimbledon, though both have proved their mastery of the surface in the past.

Murray has gone one round further with every appearance here, culminating in his run to last year's semi-finals, while Nadal has lost only two of his last 26 matches at the All England Club, to Federer in the 2006 and 2007 finals.

The one major doubt that always hangs over the Majorcan is the state of his knees. Nadal has learned to play with pain, but he was forced to miss Wimbledon last summer, took many months to rediscover his best level and has felt twinges of pain in matches over the last fortnight.

The Spaniard needs regular treatment to manage the problem and has been wearing strapping above his right knee. It is said that after Wimbledon he will undergo a process involving the injection of blood directly into a tendon in the joint. It is, apparently, as painful as it sounds.

Nevertheless, the hurt of losing today – for either man – would undoubtedly last longer. With Federer out of the running, for Murray in particular this could be the chance of a lifetime.

Murray v Nadal: Strengths and weaknesses

Murray

Strengths

* Backhand Double-handed backhand is best in the business, combining power, accuracy and reliability. Sliced backhand is also a major weapon on grass.

* Return of serve Sees the ball early and lightning reflexes make him one of best returners. Ability to break opponents takes pressure off his own serve.

* Fitness and speed Has built up strength through winter boot camps in Miami and is never found wanting for stamina. Extremely quick around court.

Weaknesses

* Second serve Can lack penetration and is sometimes too easily read. First serve can be excellent but he does not put it in court often enough.

* Forehand Not as reliable as his backhand. Can hit huge shots when he flattens it out but can also miscue on more routine strokes.

* Too many options With so many shots in his locker he can choose the wrong option when a more limited player would have no such dilemma.

Nadal

Strengths

* Forehand Consistently brilliant. Sheer weight of shot, hit with heavy top-spin, will trouble most opponents, hurrying them into mistakes.

* Resilience Never knows when he is beaten. Recovers well from bad spells in matches and is able to win even when playing well below his best.

* Big-match mentality Plays the big points and big games superbly. Hardly ever shows signs of nerves and body language is nearly always positive .

Weaknesses

* Serve Has worked hard on improvements over the last year but his serve, normally a key weapon for left-handers, can be short on power and penetration.

* Knees Always a potential problem. Regularly played through pain in the past but a busy spell over the last three months could eventually take its toll.

* Predictability Although he has excellent volleys and drop shots, he rarely chooses to move off the baseline, where he can hit his big ground strokes.

Lessons from their previous Grand Slam meetings

Australian Open, fourth round, 2007

Nadal won 6-7, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1

A defeat, but a match that offered huge encouragement to Murray. By regularly playing serve-and-volley and attacking the net, he upset Nadal with his combination of stop volleys, drop shots and aggressive ground strokes.

Lesson for Murray Keep attacking

Wimbledon, quarter-final, 2008

Nadal won 6-3, 6-2, 6-4

Murray appeared to pay for his exertions against Gasquet in the previous round. Nadal was on top from the start as Murray struggled to cope with the weight of his shots. Murray did not serve well and Nadal was quick to punish anything short.

Lesson for Murray Be physically strong

US Open, semi-final, 2008

Murray won 6-2, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4

Arguably the best performance of his career. Murray, who served well, took the game to Nadal and had the Spaniard on the back foot throughout. Found perfect balance between defence and attack and struck ball with great force.

Lesson for Murray Do not hold back on the power

Australian Open, quarter-final, 2010

Murray won 6-3, 7-6, 3-0 (retired)

Nadal quit with a knee injury in the third set but he was already a beaten man. Murray again adopted an attacking strategy, going for his shots and neutralising Nadal's threat with the power and depth of his ground strokes.

Lesson for Murray Keep Nadal on the back foot

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Life and Style
A general view during the 2014 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at Earl's Court exhibition centre on 2 December, 2014 in London, England
fashionIt's not all about the catwalks: the big changes of the past year can be summed up in six clothing items
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?