Andy Murray suffers the mother of all Slams in Paris
This was not so much a defeat as a brutal mugging. Andy Murray always knew he was facing the greatest challenge in tennis when he met Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of the French Open yesterday, but even the Scot could surely not have envisaged the beating which he endured on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Nadal, playing at his majestic, magnificent best, won 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 to inflict the heaviest defeat of Murray's Grand Slam career.
Nadal, who will renew his rivalry with Novak Djokovic in tomorrow's final, had seemed significantly below his best in the build-up to Roland Garros, where he has now won 65 of his 66 matches, but this victory was one of his most remarkable.
Murray may not be at his best on clay, but the Wimbledon champion had pushed the world No 1 to the limit on his favourite surface only three weeks earlier and had made progress in his previous five clay-court matches against him.
Nadal, however, played superbly, hitting his forehands in particular with immense power and stunning accuracy. He put so much pressure on Murray that the Scot was regularly caught between trying to keep the rallies going and knowing that he had to put something extra on his shots if he was to win the point. Nadal served and returned beautifully and Murray did not.
"That's the toughest match I have played against him," a subdued Murray said afterwards. "He was hitting extremely hard, extremely heavy, returning well, and was hitting it well on the run."
The statistics reflected the depth of the defeat. Until yesterday Murray's heaviest loss in 156 Grand Slam matches had been a 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 defeat to Argentina's Juan Ignacio Chela in the first round of the 2006 Australian Open.
Murray won only 10 points (two of which were double faults) in Nadal's 12 service games, did not have a single break point and kept the Spaniard on court for only an hour and 40 minutes. Nadal, who won a total of 83 points to Murray's 43, created six break points and converted all of them.
Murray had lost in straight sets to Nadal at the same stage of the 2011 tournament, but on that occasion the match lasted more than three and a quarter hours and the Scot created 18 break points.
"He played a great match," Murray said. "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. As soon as he was inside the court, he was hitting the ball so close to the line. He played great tennis."
Nadal, who is going for his ninth Roland Garros title, needs to beat Djokovic tomorrow to stop the Serb replacing him at the top of the world rankings. Djokovic, who beat Nadal in the recent Rome final and has won their last four meetings, needs the title to complete his Grand Slam collection.
The world No 2, who lost to Nadal in the 2012 final here and the 2013 semi-finals, has been in superb form of late, but his 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory yesterday over Latvia's Ernests Gulbis was a strangely lacklustre affair.
Gulbis, playing in his first Grand Slam semi-final, admitted that the occasion had got to him.
"It was just grinding and trying to put the ball in. Neither of us were hitting the ball well."