It is almost three years since Andy Murray last met Rafa Nadal, a hiatus in their rivalry that has coincided with the Scot winning Olympic gold and his first two grand slam titles.

Today, a chipper-looking Murray will get the ultimate test on clay when he takes on the Spaniard in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters.

Their clash will be the perfect gauge of Murray's form as he heads into the French Open and on the evidence of this week, the Scot will believe he has a fighting chance.

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"It'll be a great match for me with the French Open just around the corner because I'll see exactly where my game's at and what I need to improve," Murray said yesterday, after seeing off drop-shot king Juergen Melzer 7-6, 6-4 in a solid display.

"I haven't played him for a long time. I didn't play him at all when Ivan [Lendl] was coaching me. Both of our games will have changed in the last three years."

Amid Murray's fantastic performances in winning the London Olympics, US Open and Wimbledon, there were those who suggested his triumphs were abetted by the absence of Nadal.

The world No. 1 ruined Murray's grand slam hopes three times in succession in 2011, beating him in the semi-finals in Paris, at Wimbledon and in New York.

As Nadal recovered from injury, Murray backed up Olympic gold with victory at the US Open and doubled his grand slam tally at Wimbledon, an event where an injury-affected Nadal went out in round one. Coincidence it may be, but today's contest will be the first since Tokyo in 2011, when Murray won in three sets to reduce his head-to-head deficit to 13-5.

Clay is Nadal's domain, of course, but the good news for Murray is that he should be the far fresher of the two, having celebrated his 27th birthday yesterday with a confident victory over Melzer. The Austrian is an awkward customer and led by a break early on, using his deadly drop shot to great effect. But with the confidence of five wins out of five wins against Melzer in the past, Murray worked his way into the match. "This week I wanted to play solid tennis as much as possible and I did a pretty good job today," Murray said. "It was a lot easier to build the points and have a specific game plan. I did a decent job. There's some things I'd like to do better. It is a surface that takes me time to get used to the movement."

His own form should give him encouragement that he can do some damage against Nadal and that belief will have increased after the world No.1, seven times the champion in Rome, found himself a set and 2-0 behind to Russian Mikhail Youzhny.

Having needed well over three hours to get past Gilles Simon in round one, Nadal again made routine but uncharacteristic mistakes. As always, the fight was there and Nadal reeled off 12 of the last 13 games to win 6-7, 6-2, 6-1.

Grigor Dimitrov continues to improve, a 6-7, 6-2, 6-2 win over Tomas Berdych taking him into the last eight. But the hopes of his other half, Maria Sharapova, claiming back-to-back titles ended by a stunning display from Ana Ivanovic as the Serb won 6-1, 6-4.