There was a time when Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal seemed to meet every other week but when they face each other here in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters it will be their first contest for nearly three years.
After Murray had beaten Austria's Jürgen Melzer 7-6, 6-4, you might have thought the Scot would have been pleased when Mikhail Youzhny took the first set against Nadal, but he welcomed the Spaniard's subsequent comeback. Nadal won 12 of the last 13 games to complete a 6-7, 6-2, 6-1 victory.
Nadal and Murray played each other 15 times between 2008 and 2011 and were paired in the same half of the draw at 10 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments. Nadal has won 13 of their 18 career meetings but lost their most recent encounter in the final of the 2011 Japan Open, when Murray dropped just four points in the deciding set.
Murray said: "With the French Open and Wimbledon coming up it's not a bad thing for me to play against Nadal because I haven't played him for about three years. I've hardly practised with him either. I used to practise with him quite a lot.
"I would actually be quite interested to play against him to see how his game has changed and also see the things I can do to make it difficult for him. I'm also sure there will be things that won't work against him that I'll need to change as well, so it might be better for me to play against him now rather than in the French or at Wimbledon."
Nadal might appear to be more vulnerable on clay this year, having lost in the quarter-finals in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and occasionally struggled elsewhere, but Murray insisted: "He's won so many matches on this surface that there's always going to be a period where he maybe doesn't win for a couple of weeks. I'm sure that when the French Open comes round he'll be absolutely fine."
Until cakes were brought into the physio and interview rooms Murray might have been forgiven for thinking that he had got the date of his 27th birthday wrong. He received no presents and only two cards – from members of his entourage – but even stranger still was the fact that he won a match without getting injured. The only two occasions when he has retired hurt on the main tour were on his birthday in 2007 and last year.
The Scot did not need to raise his game to beat Melzer, who returned recently after six months out with a shoulder injury. Murray played a superb tie-break to win the first set, made a crucial break in the seventh game of the second and served well throughout. In tomorrow's semi-finals Nadal or Murray will face Tommy Haas or Grigor Dimitrov, who knocked out Stanislas Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych respectively.
Maria Sharapova's run of 12 wins on clay was ended by Ana Ivanovic, while Serena Williams dropped only three games in beating Varvara Lepchenko. The world No 1 will meet China's Shuai Zhang in the quarter-finals.