Andy Murray always knew that Fernando Gonzalez's mighty forehand posed the greatest threat to his passage into the French Open semi-finals. Appreciating the danger, however, was never going to be the same as dealing with it and the 22-year-old Scot was gunned down here yesterday by the biggest shot in tennis. Gonzalez won 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, 6-4 and will play Robin Soderling for a place in Sunday's final.
There was a time when Gonzalez was a trigger-happy maverick who would go for the kill at even the most inappropriate moments, but age – at 28 he was the oldest of the quarter-finalists – has brought maturity. The Chilean always tries to play on his forehand, which he described yesterday as "a beautiful weapon", but is generally more selective about when to unleash it with all his power.
Murray, who was attempting to join Tim Henman as the only Briton in the Open era to make the last four here, did his best to keep the ball off the world No 12's favoured side, but that was easier said than done as Gonzalez hit a number of forehands from the tramlines on his backhand flank.
The point that gave Gonzalez the only break in the first set typified Murray's frustrations. Serving at 3-4 and 30-40, the Scot kept feeding Gonzalez's backhand, only for the Chilean to run round it and hit a winner.
Gonzalez, moreover, is no one-trick pony. An accomplished clay-court player who has won eight titles on his favourite surface, he can hit some lovely drop shots and has a stylish one-handed backhand and potent serve.
Murray, nevertheless, made a real fight of it, even if his backhand, which is usually his most telling shot, was rarely in full working order. The world No 3 played an excellent second set in which he did not make a single unforced error, breaking serve on his fourth break point of the sixth game. It was the first set Gonzalez has dropped here this year.
The Scot had the momentum, but Gonzalez responded superbly. Murray won only seven points in the third set, which Gonzalez took in just 24 minutes. The Chilean broke to lead 5-3 in the fourth, only for Murray to hit some splendid returns in the following game to break back to love. The Scot faltered again, however, making four successive errors to give Gonzalez the match.
"There were a couple of things I was disappointed with, like at the start of the third set," Murray said afterwards. "I had a few chances there to hold serve and didn't take them. Then, at the end of the match, I played a poor, poor game after I broke back, which is not like me. I got myself back into the match and played four bad points."
Nevertheless Murray was quick to pay credit to Gonzalez. "I played against him before and he hits the ball hard, but today he was hitting it huge," he said. "No one else hits the ball that big. If that happens, sometimes you've got to say: 'Too good.'
"You can hit the ball short to his forehand side, because normally he's waiting on the backhand side to run around and hit it, but he hits some of his forehands from a metre wide of the tram line – and hits winners off them. Even if you try to hit a ball to his backhand, he makes his mind up to run around it and spank a winner.
"He can hit huge forehand returns. He hits it great on the run. He can hit his forehand from anywhere on the court. That's why it's very dangerous."
Gonzalez called Murray "a great player" but added: "Maybe he doesn't have enough experience playing five sets on clay courts." As for his forehand, the Chilean said: "On the attack I always try to hit and I have no fear. I just go for it. Some days I can miss, but I know that if I have to win an important match, I have to do it on that side."
While Murray might feel some disappointment at not taking full advantage of the early exits here of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who have been the year's two best players on clay, he can take heart from his campaign on terre battue. The Scot had never reached a quarter-final before this year on his least favourite surface but has proved that he can compete with the very best on it.
"It's been very good for me, a lot better than previous years," Murray said. "Physically I felt good on the court and I thought I moved better."
He will now get ready for his first grass-court tournament of the year, the Aegon Championships starting at Queen's Club on Monday, and for Wimbledon, which begins a fortnight later. "Normally I have a lot longer to prepare," Murray said with a smile.
* Laura Robson, Britain's junior Wimbledon champion, went out in the second round of the girls' competition yesterday, beaten 7-6, 1-6, 6-3 by Poland's Sandra Zaniewska. Robson, the world junior No 1, reached the final of the Australian Open in January but has admitted to struggling on the slower clay.
Federer's big chance: Field opens up for Swiss
Andy Murray's French Open exit yesterday leaves Roger Federer as the only one of the world's top four still remaining in the men's singles at Roland Garros.
Federer, the world No 2, who faces the 11th seed Gaël Monfils this afternoon, is now the clear favourite to end his long wait for a first French Open title.
Men's singles latest betting
9-2 Del Potro