There are a few challenges in sport that seem about as difficult as skiing up a cliff face backwards. Overcoming Rafael Nadal on a clay court at Roland Garros would appear to be as daunting as trying to outmanoeuvre Barcelona in a Champions League final.
Nadal has won 43 matches at Roland Garros in winning five French Open trophies before the tender age of 25. He has lost just once at the venue since 2005.
Robin Soderling remains the only player to defeat Nadal in Paris. That solitary blemish on the Nadal record came in the fourth round two years ago. Soderling came up against Nadal for the third time in three years at Roland Garros on Wednesday afternoon. He was roundly thrashed 6-4 6-1 7-6 (7-3).
Andy Murray will try to become only the second man to defeat Nadal on Court Philipe Chatrier. History is against Murray on clay having lost his three previous meetings with Nadal on the surface.
Murray has never played in a semi-final in Paris, but he has a better chance than the last British player to reach the same stage. Tim Henman was usurped in four sets by Guillermo Coria in 2004.
Tramlines has outlined five key points crucial to Murray's hopes of derailing Nadal on clay. You can follow full live text commentary from the match right here at Eurosport-Yahoo!:
One of the biggest criticisms of Murray is that he appears content to stay in points rather than win them. He is a classic counter-puncher and can slug it out with the best of them. This is not to say he cannot be aggressive. A man does not reach the last four in all four of the game's Grand Slams without being aggressive. Murray must not be frightened to go for broke now and again in rallies with Nadal. He cannot afford to wait for Nadal to make errors. He has a ferocious forehand which is good enough to pierce the defence of the Spanish player.
Nadal does not like a player serving big against him, especially on his beloved clay. The serve is perhaps less of a weapon on the slower surface, but it can still be a key element in setting up winning points. Murray showed in spurts in downing Juan Ignacio Chela that his serve is a natural ally to other elements of his attack as he looks to dominate points with his penchant for spinning the ball.
Variety is the spice of life
Murray has the ability to leave his opponents looking dishevelled at times. He must mix it up against Nadal using the backhand slice and the heavy forehand. Murray has a lovely mixture of power and drop shots in his armoury. This was only too evident in wins against Viktor Troiki and Chela. Nadal presents a different challenge, but it is important to keep the Spanish player guessing. He must also keep the ball low in rallies otherwise Nadal will murder him. How does he do this? Study footage of the set he plucked from Nadal in Monte Carlo a couple of months ago. Then watch it over, and over again.
Murray's ankle looks to be holding up well. He cut a surprisingly fresh figure in downing Chela. Going through in three sets will give him maximum time to prepare for Friday. He should have more than enough energy to go toe-to-toe with Nadal over five sets. There is no fitter player on tour than Murray. Whether he has the ability to unseat Nadal remains to be seen.
Positive mental attitude
There is more than a touch of theatre about Murray and the way he goes about his business. He seems to like leaving himself hanging from the edge of a cliff with his fingertips before recovering his gait just in time. He would be wise to dispense with his affection for such drama against Nadal. He must be 'on it' from the opening point against Nadal. He must refrain from losing his temper. The French crowd on Phillipe Chatrier are likely to be behind the 'King of Clay'. Leave an animated Nadal to do the whooping and hollering between points. Murray must go about his own business. The gamesmanship is usually a waste of energy.
Murray may not be ready for Nadal on clay, but he need not fear him. If he reaches the peak of his powers, this match could be a lot tighter than many will expect. He is under no pressure against such a figure, but this column, if not the world of tennis, expects..