Australian Open: Andy Murray boosted by exit of Rafael Nadal
It was a sight that nobody in tennis, except perhaps some supporters of a certain 23-year-old Scot, wanted to see.
Rafael Nadal's attempt to become only the third man in history to hold all four Grand Slam titles ended in despair here when he lost his Australian Open quarter-final to David Ferrer in straight sets after suffering a hamstring injury early in the match.
Andy Murray, having beaten Alexandr Dolgopolov 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 in his own quarter-final earlier in the day, had no doubt been expecting to renew his rivalry with the world No 1 in the semi-finals, but instead of facing a 24-year-old who has won nine Grand Slam titles he will meet a 28-year-old who has never reached a major final.
Ferrer, whose previous best performance in a Grand Slam tournament was a run to the US Open semi-finals four years ago, has beaten Murray in all three of their meetings on clay, but has lost their only two encounters on hard courts, most recently at the O2 Arena in London two months ago.
Murray will be the clear favourite as he attempts to reach his third major final — he lost to Roger Federer in New York in 2008 and here last year — as he continues his quest to become the first British man to win a Grand Slam singles title since Fred Perry in 1936.
Nadal had taken time to recover from a virus that laid him low in Doha in his first tournament of the season, but appeared to have recovered his strength by the time he went on court for the last of the quarter-finals.
With Murray having won already and Federer meeting Novak Djokovic in today's first semi-final, tournament officials must have been looking forward to a dream line-up in the last four.
After only three games, however, Nadal left the court to take a medical time-out, after which he returned with his left thigh strapped, his movement impaired and his face etched with concern.
Long before the end of his 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 defeat he wore the forlorn expression of a man who knew that his chance of making more history had slipped from his grasp.
It was to his great credit that Nadal did not quit before the end. “I hate retirements,” he said afterwards. “I did that last year and I didn't want a repeat.” He was reluctant to talk about the injury. “Out of respect to the winner and to a friend I prefer to talk about the match,” he said.
“He's having a fantastic tournament. If he keeps playing like this, he's going to have a good chance. Tonight I played against a great player.” Pressed to reveal more about his injury, Nadal said: “It's obvious that I didn't feel at my best. I had a problem during the match, at the very beginning. After that the match was almost over. It's difficult for me to speak about it. In Doha I wasn't healthy. Today I have another problem. It seems like I always have problems when I lose and I don't want to have this image.”
In Ferrer Murray will face one of the few players as quick as him around the court.
The world No 7, who played more singles matches (84) than any other man on the main tour last year, may lack hitting power but is phenomenally fit.