Only five weeks ago Andy Murray must have wondered where his next victory would come from, having failed to win a set, let alone a match, since January. The 23-year-old Scot has turned his year round so effectively, however, that he will head for the French Open next week having enjoyed the best clay-court season of his career.
Murray beat Germany's Florian Mayer 1-6, 6-1, 6-1 at the Rome Masters here yesterday to reach his second Masters Series clay-court semi-final of the year. Today he faces Novak Djokovic, who extended his six-month unbeaten run to 37 matches with a 6-3, 6-0 victory over Robin Soderling. It will be their first meeting since the Serb won their Australian Open final at the start of this year.
In winning three matches this week Murray has already claimed more victories than in all five of his previous visits to the Foro Italico. He is the first British semi-finalist in this tournament for 79 years, Pat Hughes having reached the last four in 1932, one year after becoming the only Briton ever to win the title.
"I think I've done well so far, considering where I was at right before the clay-court season," Murray said. "I feel like it's been a big turning point in the year for me, which maybe some people didn't think it was going to be. It was always going to be a tough part of the season for me."
Murray and Mayer opened proceedings on the splendid new centre court on another afternoon of rapidly rising temperatures. The steep-sided arena was populated by just a few hundred spectators at the start.
For much of the first set Murray looked almost as nervous as the Christians who were thrown into another arena just down the road a few centuries ago. The Scot had never previously played or even practised with Mayer, who has the most unorthodox game of any modern player. The 27-year-old German's double-handed sliced backhand is his most extraordinary shot, though Murray found his forehand, delivered with a huge swing, even more difficult to read.
Murray held serve only once in his first five attempts. When Mayer broke to level at 1-1 in the second set with a sliced double-handed backhand pass down the line Murray might have feared it was not going to be his day, but he told himself to be patient and soon rediscovered his rhythm to win 11 of the last 12 games. The Scot will relish the chance to face Djokovic. "It will be great to play him," Murray said. 'He's playing very, very well, so it will be a very good test for me."
Rafael Nadal faces Richard Gasquet in the other semi-final. Nadal beat Marin Cilic 6-1, 6-3 while Gasquet beat Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.
In the women's tournament Sam Stosur dampened the local crowd's ardour with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Francesca Schiavone. In today's semi-finals the Australian meets China's Li Na, who beat Greta Arn 6-3, 6-1. Caroline Wozniacki beat Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 and now plays Maria Sharapova.Reuse content