Nadal expects tough challenge
3:49pm Thursday 5th June 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Rafael Nadal will be back on his favourite stage and bidding to take another step towards more French Open history when he plays Andy Murray in the semi-finals on Friday.
The world number one took his record at Roland Garros to a remarkable 64-1 by coming from a set down to defeat David Ferrer in the semi-finals on Wednesday evening.
Nadal's only defeat at the French Open came in 2009 against Robin Soderling, bisecting the eight titles he has won.
That is a grand slam record in itself, and should Nadal extend that to nine on Sunday, he would be the first man to win five successive French Open titles.
He will be back on his favourite stage, Court Philippe Chatrier, on Friday after being sent out to Suzanne Lenglen for the match against Ferrer, something he made clear afterwards he was not happy about.
Nadal and Murray have not met in a grand slam since 2011, when they played in three successive semi-finals, the Spaniard winning them all.
That was the only previous time Murray has made the last four at Roland Garros, but Nadal knows how well the Wimbledon champion is playing on clay having come close to losing to him in Rome three weeks ago.
"Always to play against Andy is a big challenge," he said. "Always is a pleasure at the same time. I really like him as a person. I think he's a great guy. He always stays the same. He's a great competitor.
"It's great to have him back at his top level playing again the semi-final of a grand slam after an injury. I'm happy for him, because he deserved it.
"He was playing much better in Rome, I think. It was a very, very tough match against him. A good one for me, too, an important victory for me.
"It will be a big match and big challenge for me. I'm going to try my best. I know I have to play very well if I want to have chances to win."
The other semi-final pits second seed Novak Djokovic against first-time semi-finalist Ernests Gulbis.
The Latvian has always been a big talent and is now finally showing the dedication to his sport necessary to live up to it.
Djokovic, who has known Gulbis since they were teenagers at the same German academy, said: "W e all know that talent maybe was a few decades ago in our sport one of the major factors that brought success to the tennis player, but not any more.
"Talent is something that is a gift that you have but it's a minor part of a puzzle that needs to come together for you to be a successful player.
"Maybe those things didn't come together for him in the last couple of years, but now they are. He has won against Roger (Federer), won against Tomas (Berdych).
"He has a huge serve that if it goes in it can give him a lot of advantage over the opponent. He's definitely going to be aggressive and going to go for his shots against me.
"I'm going to try to get myself prepared with the team and get the right tactics."
Gulbis was a quarter-finalist at Roland Garros six years ago as a teenager and freely admits he only has himself to blame for the stall in his career that followed.
The 25-year-old, who is from one of the richest families in Latvia, said: " I just thought everything is going to come too easy for me because everything in life was just coming. I wasn't really thinking about it and not putting enough effort into it.
"I never had problems in school. Tennis, everything was coming easy. I thought I'm just going to grind in life like this, easy without any effort, and be successful.
"And then, s*** happened."
Gulbis has won only one of five previous meetings against Djokovic but they have not played each other for more than three years.
"The way I'm playing now, I never played like this," said Gulbis. "I never felt like this. It's just 0?0. What was in the past, I don't even consider."