Murray finds positives in defeat as he prepares for hard courts

The semi-finals can be the hardest stage at which to lose, but for Andy Murray there was the consolation that it was Rafael Nadal who had denied him the chance to become Britain's first Wimbledon men's singles finalist for 72 years.

"I love the guy," Murray said as he reflected on his defeat by the world No 1 on Friday. "As a player I think he's the best thing that has ever happened to tennis. I play so much tennis, but he's the only guy I love to watch. I have a lot of respect for him as well.

"Obviously you're desperate to win – I hate losing – but when the match is finished I have a lot of respect for him. I've known him since we were very young."

The respect is mutual. "I felt sorry for him because he's a very nice person, a very good person," Nadal said. "I wished him best of luck for the rest of the season, and sorry for today."

Nadal has been a key figure in Murray's life. It was a conversation between the two teenagers that led to the Scot basing himself at the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona when he was 15, while his victories over the Spaniard at the 2008 US Open and 2010 Australian Open were arguably the best performances of his career.

Friday's defeat, Murray's eighth in 11 meetings with Nadal, set another benchmark for the Scot. Being able to play the big points with the steely resolve that the world No 1 showed may be a quality that players are born with rather than one that can be honed, but there were other lessons Murray could take from Nadal's near-faultless display.

"Obviously I'm going to have to improve certain things," Murray said. "There are certain things I can do on the court better than Rafa, but there are obviously things that he does that no one else in the world can do.

"I've been hitting my forehand great all tournament, but it needs to get better to be on a par or similar to his. It's a very different shot. I hit the ball a lot flatter, but that's a shot that can cause him problems. If I can hit hard and flat it gives me a chance.

"I need to play better up at the net. I can serve and volley better. This is the best I've served this year, for sure. I was winning between 75 and 80 per cent of the points on my first serve."

He added: "When you're out there you're not focusing on how well he's playing. I was just trying to find ways to win. But I'm sure he did play great, because when I came off I didn't feel like I played that terribly. When you do get your chances against him, you have to play great tennis to take them. That was the main difference. When he was down break points he played great tennis and I didn't on my own serve at the end of the third set."

Murray should take heart from his Wimbledon run, which proved that his troubles of recent months were only a blip. He has played significantly fewer matches than last year so he should be comparatively fresh for the American hard-court campaign, which is usually the most productive part of his season.

What of his major rivals? Nadal has looked all but unbeatable over the past three months, but his form usually dips at this stage of the year. Roger Federer has suddenly started to look vulnerable. Novak Djokovic does not appear quite the force he was, Juan Martin del Potro's year has been wrecked by a wrist injury and Marin Cilic's post- Melbourne slump has been longer and deeper than Murray's. Tomas Berdych and Robin Soderling could be the bigger long-term threats.

Murray will now take a break, but does not expect to relax for long. "I need to take a little bit of time off," he said. "I'll try and put the rackets away, but I'm not great at staying away from the court and the gym."