Murray courage is no real match for Nadal's killer instinct

Gutsy Scot lifts clay game to new heights but finds world No 1 back to clinical best

The section of the French Open history books occupied by Fred Perry and Bunny Austin will stay unchanged for another year.

Andy Murray's attempt to join his two famous predecessors as the only Britons to play in the final at Roland Garros ended in disappointment here last night, though in time the 24-year-old Scot is likely to look back on this as his breakthrough year on clay courts.

Murray was beaten 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 in his semi-final by Rafael Nadal, but it took the king of clay more than three and a quarter hours to maintain the defence of his crown. Murray kept up the pressure throughout, but Nadal, as he has so often in the past, played superbly on the big points. Murray had 18 break points in the match and took only three of them; Nadal converted six of his 13.

The world No 1, who celebrated his 25th birthday yesterday, may not have been at his best over the last fortnight, but the competitive fire in his belly has never faded. Nadal has now won 44 of the 45 matches he has played on these courts and will equal Bjorn Borg's record of six French Open titles if he wins tomorrow's final against his old rival, Roger Federer, who became the first player this year to beat Novak Djokovic, completing a 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 victory in near darkness at 9.37pm.

Victory over Federer, whom he has beaten in three previous finals here, would see the Spaniard retain his world No 1 ranking, though Djokovic will replace him if he loses.

Murray will now turn his thoughts to the grass-court season, but he can also reflect on what has been an excellent clay-court campaign. The Scot had arrived back in Europe in woeful form little more than two months ago, having not won a set let alone a match following his run to the Australian Open final, but has responded with two appearances in Masters Series semi-finals and his best ever run at the French Open. He now has the belief that he can live with the very best on a surface that has always been challenging for him.

Court Philippe-Chatrier had been half-empty for the start of the previous day's women's semi-finals, but there were few empty spaces at the beginning of an eagerly anticipated afternoon, with the world's top four men contesting the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time for five years. Outside on the Avenue de la Porte d'Auteuil touts were asking 1,000 euros for a pair of tickets.

The sun beat down at the start, as it has for most of the last fortnight, though a more telling factor was the unpredictable breeze that swirled around the stadium and whipped clay-dust into the players' eyes.

While Murray had plenty of support it was no surprise that the five-times champion had the greater vocal backing. There were times when the Spaniard looked his old self, turning belief-defying defence into thrilling attack, but he was rarely able to sustain such a level over a long period. Much of the credit for that had to go to his opponent, who was joining Mike Sangster and Tim Henman as the only Britons to play in the semi-finals here since Austin in 1937.

Murray was still dosing himself up with pain-killers and anti-inflammatory pills after tearing an ankle tendon in the third round last week. He moved surprisingly well, even after wincing in pain when wrong-footed by a smash early in the match.

Although he played too many loose games on his own serve, Murray was admirably focused in his determination to stop Nadal pulling clear. He kept creating opportunities, only to be repeatedly thwarted as Nadal defended the break points against him.

Murray brought four large bottles of pre-prepared drinks on to the court, clearly ready for a long contest. Nadal arrived with three bananas, apparently expecting to have to replenish his energy levels at some stage.

Before the match Murray had stressed the importance of making a good start, but it was Nadal who streaked into a 5-1 lead as the Scot played two poor service games. Murray retrieved one break to trail 5-3, but the set encapsulated the match as Nadal saved five of the six break points against him. The Spaniard defended the last of them by playing serve-and-volley before going on to win the next two points and the set.

If there was a decisive spell in the match it began at 2-2 in the next set. Murray was broken four times in his next five service games as Nadal took the second set and made what proved to be the only break of the third. Frustratingly for Murray, the Scot's own inroads into Nadal's serve – he broke twice in succession from 2-3 down in the second set – were cancelled out by his own repeated failure to hold. Murray led 40-15 when he served at 5-5, only to let Nadal back in the game, which he eventually won with a forehand driven into the corner.

Murray, however, refused to throw in the towel. Having gone 2-0 down at the start of the third set, the Scot forced break points in each of Nadal's next three service games. Nadal, nevertheless, continued to defend them heroically. When Nadal served for the match at 5-4 he again turned up the volume. A screaming inside-out forehand winner set up match point, which the Spaniard converted when Murray put a forehand into the net. Nadal leapt into the air before sinking to his knees in joyous celebration.

In his post-match interview on the court Nadal had consoling words for a rival and a friend since their days together on the junior circuit. "Andy's a fantastic player," Nadal said. "He deserves to win a Grand Slam soon."

Going for choke: Murray's failure in the final stages

US Open final 2008

Lost to Roger Federer 2-6, 5-7, 2-6

The Swiss needed just one hour and 51 minutes to win his 13th Grand Slam.

Wimbledon semi-final 2009

Lost to Andy Roddick 4-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7

Two closely contested tie-breaks denied Murray the opportunity to become the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final since 1938.

Wimbledon semi-final 2010

Lost to Rafael Nadal 4-6, 6-7, 4-6

Had a set-point on his own serve in the second-set tie-break, but couldn't convert, and that was that.

Australian Open final 2010

Lost to Roger Federer 3-6, 4-6, 6-7

Murray, having accounted for Rafael Nadal and Marin Cilic en route to the final, wasted two set points in the third as Federer's greater experience told.

Australian Open final 2011

Lost to Novak Djokovic 4-6, 2-6, 3-6

Became the first player to fail to win a set in his first three Grand Slam finals.

French Open semi-final 2011

Lost to Nadal 4-6, 5-7, 4-6

Cut a frustrated figure as Nadal saved 15 out of 18 break points during the match.

Robin Cottle and Leon Antonio

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
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.

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star