The skid marks scarring the red clay looked like routes on a road map marking David Ferrer's path to a long-desired destination. Hair flapping against his forehead with almost every determined step, Ferrer beat Andy Murray to the ball and beat him up with his forehand, pounding out a 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-2 victory over his practice partner to reach his first career French Open semifinal.
It is the third career Grand Slam semifinal for Ferrer, who snapped Murray's streak of five straight major semifinals in the process. The quick-footed Spaniard exudes desire the way some players shed sweat, and that sustained him through a physically-demanding, three-hour-and-45-minute journey of some quality shot-making and tight play from both men. Ferrer, who failed to survive the fourth round in seven of his prior nine trips to Paris, ultimately won this match because he stayed committed to the course of using his forehand to target Murray's weaker forehand wing, changed direction more effectively, and played pivotal points with command and positive emotion.
The stubborn Ferrer fought off six of seven break points he faced in the first set, including four to hold for 5-2. Murray broke back for 4-5 and served to level the match, but his backhand stab volley clung to the top of the tape, then plopped on his side of the net, giving Ferrer a second set point. Playing heavier topspin forehands to back Murray up behind the baseline, Ferrer took the 66-minute first set on a forehand error. Murray's inability to finish with his forehand proved costly; the net was his nemesis as he flat-lined several of his 59 unforced errors.
Taking his returns earlier and stepping into the court more, Murray took a 5-1 lead in the second-set tiebreaker, closing when Ferrer ended a 20-shot rally by flicking a forehand wide. It was the first set Ferrer has lost in the tournament. Rain postponed play for nearly 26 minutes with Murray holding a 1-0 lead in the third set. When play resumed, Ferrer charged, winning three straight games. Murray broke back at love for 3-all, but bungled a backhand volley into net, completing a horrid game to drop serve at 3-4. Ferrer pounded the Murray forehand until it bled a few more errors, as the Spaniard broke to seize the third set.
Murray can win a point in more ways than Ferrer, but he's also prone to playing not to lose. There was seldom any confusion clouding Ferrer's decision-making today: He was looking to fire his forehand, and more often than not he found the mark. They traded breaks to open the fourth set, then Ferrer broke at 15 for a 3-1 lead. He staved off two break points in the seventh game, and when Murray netted a weary backhand, Ferrer was one game from a victory he sealed with a kiss to his support box.
Eight of Ferrer's 15 career titles have come on clay. Next up is a semifinal with the king of clay, Rafael Nadal, who has won 15 of their 19 meetings, including 11 of their last 12.