It does not seem that long ago that I faced a Rafael Nadal-Perera, as he was then known, in a clay court satellite tournament in Terrassa, on the outskirts of Barcelona, in March 2002.

He was then 15 years and nine months old -- I was 20 -- and I had no idea that my win over him would come to hold such merit. Back then, he was already one of the top juniors in the world and was devoting himself to the satellite clay court circuit and building his experience at what is a fundamental, yet necessary, starting point in men’s tennis.

During our match, I couldn’t help but be taken by his incredible racquet head speed, weight of shot and physical power. I was convinced that he would break through to a top-50 world ranking quickly, but no-one could have predicted just how prolific his record on clay would become.

At 25, Nadal has accumulated five French Open titles and he still has a few years in which to equal Bjorn Borg’s record of six titles at Roland Garros. You have to think he will go on to surpass this record and become the ultimate clay-court conqueror.

Andy Murray deserves great praise for the way he has stayed tough in Paris over the past week and a half. His comeback from two sets down against Viktor Troicki in the fourth round epitomised the kind of determination and mental toughness he will need to prevail against Nadal today.

What’s even more impressive is that Murray looks as if he’s enjoying the fight and is staying in a relaxed mindset, which is doubtless helping him to release negative feelings that can build up in the closing stages of a grand slam event.

While Andy has so far survived the rigours of the most physically demanding of the slams, the most important topic in his camp has to be the Scot’s tactical gameplan. Murray has beaten Nadal four times on hard courts but never on the Spaniard’s favoured clay.

Andy can take confidence from the fact that he’s playing the best clay-court tennis of his career, that he took Nadal to a final set a few weeks ago at the Monte Carlo Masters event, and that Nadal has, by his standards, struggled to find top form at Roland Garros so far.

I believe Andy’s strategy should be to attack the Nadal’s backhand side. He will need to stay patient from the baseline and wait for Nadal to play a shorter length. When he’s worked the point for the short ball, Murray must have a strong court position inside the baseline and attack with flatter angled shots that take time away from Nadal and force him to move forward as well as off the court sideways.

Ideally, Andy should look to come to the net when he has the initiative, although he must be careful to come in only when a quality strike has been delivered and Nadal is forced on the back foot.

It goes without saying that Nadal has one of the best passing shots in tennis and loves to pass on the run. Going behind him with a wrong-footing approach shot is another option for Andy, as it would negate Nadal’s ability to pass on the run.

Andy must serve well if he is to take Nadal all the way, and it is imperative that he delivers the first strike in the rally when there is the opportunity. Another chance to deliver this initial strike will come from Nadal’s second serve.

If Andy can attack early and hard to the Nadal backhand side, it may also give him a chance to earn the short ball without having to stay patient when the groundstroke trading begins.

I believe Andy has a chance to take Nadal close tomorrow, but he will need to produce one of the best tactical performances of his career to date and execute his winners with master precision if he is to defeat the game’s King of Clay.

  • Alan Mackin is a former professional from Paisley who spent 10 years on the ATP Tour before retiring in 2008. He reached a career-high ranking of 213 in April 2004.