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Murray's solid victory puts Nadal in the firing line

By Eleanor Crooks

Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray set up the prospect of a mouthwatering semi-final at the Monte Carlo Masters but Roger Federer's comeback tournament ended prematurely with defeat by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

The world number three was playing his first event since the Australian Open following knee surgery and will surely reflect positively on the week despite his 3-6 6-2 7-5 loss to Tsonga.

Federer was in excellent form in the opening set but Tsonga hit back and broke serve in the 11th game of the decider.

Serving for the match, Tsonga lost the opening two points but Federer could not capitalise, earning a warning for swiping the ball into the crowd when he dumped a volley in the net.

While that match lived up to its billing, the clash between eight-time Monte Carlo winner Nadal and French Open champion Stan Wawrinka did not.

Nadal's form had a lot to do with that, the Spaniard looking closer than ever to rediscovering his best level, with his forehand particularly impressive.

The first set lasted less than half an hour and, although Wawrinka improved in the second, it was not enough to prevent a 6-1 6-4 defeat.

Nadal said: "I defended well, I moved well. When I had the opportunity, I was trying to control the point with my forehand and with my backhand, too.

"I am very happy with the way that I played. The important thing is to play points in a row with the right intensity, without many mistakes."

Nadal beat Murray in the semi-finals in Monte Carlo in 2009 and 2011 but lost their last encounter on clay in the final of the Madrid Masters 12 months ago.

Murray was lucky to survive his third-round match against Benoit Paire having been a set and a double break down but it was a completely different story when he took on Milos Raonic.

Raonic appeared to be feeling the effects of two long matches to make the last eight but Murray was razor sharp in a 6-2 6-0 victory.

The world number two, who suffered early defeats in Indian Wells and Miami last month, said: "The two most important shots in tennis I did really well.

"I served very well and my return was very good.

"When he missed the first serve, I was being very offensive," he added.

"The serve and return were the best they have been in a while and I'm glad because they weren't so strong in the last couple of matches.''

Tsonga will contest an all-French semi-final after Gael Monfils continued his fine form with a 6-2 6-4 victory over lucky loser Marcel Granollers.

Tennis accounted for nine of 11 suspicious betting patterns flagged up by a leading sports gambling watchdog in the first quarter of 2016.

ESSA's figures for 2015 showed that nearly three-quarters of all suspicious events in sport were tennis matches, and the numbers released yesterday revealed that ratio has increased.

One basketball match and one football match were the only other alerts issued to the relevant authorities in the first three months of 2016.

But the number of suspicious tennis matches has reduced, with 2015's figures showing 17 in the first quarter, 19 in the second, 13 in the third and 24 in the fourth.

Belfast Telegraph


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