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Murray eager to prise the crown from King of Clay

It is to Andy Murray's misfortune that on both occasions he has made it to the semi-finals here in Paris, he has come up against the man who will go down in history as the greatest clay-court player of all time.

Murray trains before his French Open semi-final. Picture: Getty
Murray trains before his French Open semi-final. Picture: Getty

After a roller-coaster 10 days or so in Paris, the Scot will take on Rafael Nadal today for a place in the French Open final, the only grand slam showpiece he has yet to reach.

Completing a full set of grand slam final appearances is one of Murray's remaining goals but the 27-year-old knows that to get there, he may just have to play the match of his life.

"I'm in a good position right now; I would have signed up for this position at the start of the tournament," said Murray, who lost to Nadal at the same stage in 2011.

"I'd rather be playing someone else than Rafa but it's a great opportunity for me to go out there and play a great match and see if I can beat him."

After his dramatic five-set win over Gael Monfils in the last eight, when he let slip a two-set lead before coming good again in the fifth, Murray knows he cannot afford even the slightest lapse in concentration.

But even though Nadal has denied him in four grand slam semi-finals, including three in a row in 2011, it is a match-up Murray enjoys and one he believes he can win, even if doing it on clay over five sets is the toughest task of all.

"I'm playing some really good tennis again," Murray said, "I played a very good match against Rafa in Rome [earlier this month] and I was 4-2 up in the third set against him.

"I didn't win the match but maybe if I had won a few more matches in the build-up it could have helped with the confidence going in to serving out a match like that. But for me there is no doubt in my mind I have the potential to win these events."

World No.1 Nadal is trying for a record-extending ninth French Open title, a stunning statistic on what is the toughest, most gruelling surface of all. The fact that Novak Djokovic, who plays in the first semi-final tomorrow against Latvia's Ernests Gulbis, is also at home on clay means Murray's task in Paris is always that bit harder than it is at Wimbledon or on the hard courts of Melbourne and New York.

But grand slams, and adding to his grand slam tally, is what Murray is all about these days and the Scot believes he can upset the odds.

"I believe 100% I can beat Rafa and Novak," Murray said. "But on this surface it's harder than other courts because it's not my best surface and they are two of the greatest clay-court players in my opinion. Rafa is definitely the best, you can't compare anyone with what he has achieved. But the hunger is there, the desire. I'll give it everything I've got."

It was one of the anomalies of Murray's time with Ivan Lendl that the former world No.1 never got the chance to prepare the Scot to face Nadal. Since their relationship ended in March, Murray has been in occasional touch with Lendl by text message.

With no replacement coach in place yet, Murray said he would not be contacting Lendl himself but that he will not be short of advice.

"I'll chat with Dani [Vallverdu, a long-time part of his team and effectively his de facto coach] about it, watch a few videos and then chat with Dani about it again on the morning of the match," Murray said.

"I often get messages. I might get one from Ivan, one from Darren [Cahill] and I might get one from my brother or whoever about what I should try to do or the things that might work. There will be little bits of information from a few people."

Part of what Murray enjoys the most is figuring out how to beat players, working out their weaknesses immediately and attacking them when required.

Having played Nadal 19 times - and won just five of them - there is little Murray does not know about the Spaniard. He also knows exactly his game plan; the hard part is sustaining a high enough level, over five sets, to execute it.

After seeing off Monfils in the quarter-finals, Murray alluded to the fact that his own expectations are far higher than those anyone else puts on him. "These are the tournaments that drive me to train," he said. "I put a lot of time and effort thinking about them and getting ready for them and my goal is to try to win these events every time I come to them. This is what I really, really love and enjoy playing them, preparing for them, the training that goes into them.

"Some people seem to think I was missing motivation [after back surgery in September] but I still trained as hard as I could, I had no days off for three months getting ready for the Australian Open.

"I didn't need to do that. I trained every single day to get ready to get myself in shape and I am seeing the benefits of doing that now."

Murray and Nadal will follow the meeting of Djokovic and Gulbis, with the Serb looking ominously strong as he tries to win the only grand slam title to elude him so far.

Gulbis, who beat Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych on the way to his first grand slam semi-final, has a box of tricks but it would be a shock if it is not the world No.2 Djokovic awaiting either Murray or Nadal in Sunday's final.

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