ATP Rome Masters: Defending champion Rafael Nadal knocks out Andy Murray
Defending champion Rafael Nadal reached the semi-finals of the Rome Masters after battling past Andy Murray 1-6 6-3 7-5.
By Razwan Mirza - Tweet me: @RazMirza
Last Updated: 17/05/14 8:26am
The world No 1 came through 1-6 6-3 7-5 in a high-quality contest against the British seventh seed to set up a semi-final clash against highly-rated Grigor Dimitrov.
Murray had won just one set against Nadal in four previous clay court meetings, but showed flashes of his best form in a match which lasted two hours and 40 minutes.
Nadal now goes in search of a record eighth title at the Foro Italico, although he was given another stern test.
Murray, who was playing the Spaniard for the first time since the Tokyo final in October 2011, made the dream start by breaking his opponent on his opening two service games, before establishing a commanding 5-0 lead.
Nadal, who battled past Gilles Simon and Mikhail Youzhny in the previous two rounds, was floundering from the back of the court, mistiming his groundstrokes off his usually precise forehand.
Despite holding in the sixth game, Nadal could not prevent the Wimbledon champion from serving out an almost perfect set of tennis.
Amazingly, it was the first time in his career that the 13-time Grand Slam champion had lost a set in four consecutive matches on his favourite surface.
However, top seed Nadal immediately picked up the pace and found another gear early in the second to move into a 3-0 lead.
With the Scot unable to produce the same high standard and intensity of the first set, the eight-time French Open champion didn't waste any time in taking the contest into a decider.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Murray traded breaks with the man from Mallorca in the first two games and then in the sixth and seventh games, taking a 4-2 lead, in a match that was turning into a titanic battle between two heavyweights in the Italian capital.
Murray, who quit the same event with back problems a year ago that eventually required surgery, was broken decisively in the 11th game to love before Nadal served it out to reach the last four once again.
In the 19 meetings between the pair, the Spaniard now leads the head-to-head record 14-5.