Andy Murray knew what he needed to do.

He just could not do it. The Scot's French Open title hopes were ended yesterday by the vicious left hand of Rafael Nadal, whose unworldly forehand left him stumbling on the clay, trounced 6-3, 6-2, 6-1.

On the hottest day of the tournament, when Murray needed his legs to carry him around in search of Nadal's piledrivers, they failed him, the extra work they had done earlier in the fortnight finally taking its toll. In hindsight, the fact he had played four-and-a-half hours more than Nadal on the way to the semi-final should have warned him what was to come.

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Yet Murray was doubly unfortunate because his lethargy coincided with Nadal hitting the kind of rampant form that has taken him to the title here on eight occasions and makes him favourite to win a ninth.

There will be plenty of people, those connected to the game and those with just a passing interest, who will believe that equalling his previous best effort at Roland Garros represents a fine performance from Murray.

However, in the aftermath of such a crushing defeat, Murray struggled to find much solace. "There weren't loads of people that would have expected me to get to the semis," Murray said. "But once you get there you obviously want to try and give yourself an opportunity and I didn't give myself a chance in any of the sets today.

"That's why I'm disappointed, because you want to be competitive. You want to make it hard for him. I wasn't able to do that."

It is only eight months since Murray underwent back surgery and such is the nature of the Tour that, with the exception of Davis Cup, the only real chance to play best-of-five set matches comes in grand slam tournaments.

Perhaps Murray knew that he did not have enough in his legs to last that long and certainly in the opening games he was very aggressive, trying to hit winners on the Nadal serve.

The tone was set when he rushed into a few mistakes in his opening service game and Nadal did not need a second invitation to take control. Slamming his forehand into the corners, Nadal made Murray drop the ball short time and time again, giving the Spaniard time to run around his backhand and whip forehand winners.

Try as he might, Murray was unable to get a foothold into the match, always on the back foot and never able to exploit the space Nadal sometimes leaves on that forehand side. On the odd occasion he did have the chance, he missed his mark, but such was the ferocity of Nadal's play that he felt pushed into going for more than he perhaps ought to have.

"He played a great match," Murray said of the world No.1. "He missed hardly any balls. He served very well. His forehand, especially with the conditions the way they were today, was incredibly hard to control the ball. As soon as he was inside the court, I mean, he was hitting the ball so close to the line. He played great tennis."

Murray had been encouraged by the way he had pushed Nadal to the limit in the final set of their Rome Masters semi-final earlier in the month, a match in which he led 4-2 in the final set.

But yesterday, Nadal did what he seems to have done here in each of the past three years: turn it on at the right time. "There was a period I think when he was having the problems with his knees where obviously he started trying to play more aggressive and further inside the court and was hitting his forehand flatter," Murray said. "But today he was hitting extremely hard, extremely heavy, returning well, and was hitting it well on the run. That's the toughest match I have played against him."

Murray will have to get his mind right quickly as he heads home to defend his Aegon Championship title at London's Queen's Club, the precursor to his Wimbledon title defence.

"Physically, I have played a lot of tennis the last couple of weeks, definitely the most time I have spent on court in a two-week span in the last six months since I came back," he said. "So in some ways that's obviously a good thing, that I managed to get through some long matches."

Murray said his chances of having a new coach in place before Wimbledon were "50-50" but said he expects to play well in his title defence, with or without someone new in his corner.

"I'm really looking forward to going back," he said. "I think it will give me a lot of positive energy. I'm glad I'm back playing to a level that was able to get me through to the last stage of slams. I just need that extra few per cent so that I can give myself a chance to try and win them again. But the grass will obviously help me. It's a surface I have always enjoyed playing on. It's been my most successful surface over my career."

In the final, Nadal will take on Novak Djokovic in a match that will decide which of the two holds the world No.1 ranking on Monday morning, as well as whether the Serb becomes the eighth man to complete a career grand slam.

Djokovic came through an odd semi-final against Latvia's Ernests Gulbis - a match in which neither man hit the heights, leaving the Serb wondering about his energy levels.

"Midway through the third set I started to feel physically fatigued a little bit," Djokovic said. "It happens in the tournament, and important thing for me is that I realise what's going on. It's nothing serious. I'm going to have now two days of recovery and get ready for the final. I'm glad I won in four sets, because if it went to a fifth, god knows in which direction the match could go."

Djokovic had better recover fast, because being less than 100% against Nadal is not going to get the job done.