PARIS (Reuters) - World number one Andy Murray shrugged off a sluggish start to reach his fifth French Open semi-final with a 2-6 6-1 7-6(0) 6-1 defeat of Japan’s Kei Nishikori on Wednesday.
Briton Murray dropped serve twice in the opening set as the gremlins that have dogged his season briefly returned, but he was generally in charge after that against the eighth seed.
Nishikori, who beat Murray in the quarter-finals of last year’s U.S. Open, could not sustain his early form and although he courageously forced a third-set tiebreak he lost that 7-0.
Murray, runner-up last year to Novak Djokovic, recovered an early break of serve in the fourth set and reeled off the last six games to set up a repeat of last year’s semi-final when he produced a dazzling display to beat Stan Wawrinka.
The 30-year-old Murray arrived at Roland Garros with genuine concerns over his form after a mediocre claycourt swing, but with coach Ivan Lendl watching over his shoulder he has rediscovered the winning mentality just in time.
He might need another level, however, against Swiss former champion Wawrinka, who annihilated Marin Cilic 6-3 6-3 6-1.
”I came in playing garbage,“ Murray said. ”You know, I‘m the odd one out in the semis, but hopefully I can keep it up.
“I didn’t feel like I played great tennis today. But it’s a huge step in the right direction for me. Anyone can win matches when they are playing well. It’s winning when you’re not playing your best that is more impressive.”
In windy conditions Murray double-faulted to lose serve in the third game and Nishikori pinged a forehand winner past him to move 5-2 ahead before serving out the set.
Serving at 1-1, deuce in the second set Murray was bizarrely given a time violation warning by umpire Carlos Ramos after he had let an errant ball toss land -- prompting an exchange of views between the pair.
Coincidence or not, after that incident Murray was far more aggressive and began to take over.
”I was frustrated about it, but I don’t know how much impact that had on the match,“ Murray said. ”It’s not like I played a great point the next point.
”But I broke the following game. Kei played a poor game to break. I didn’t do anything special, but that was a critical period of the match, because he started way better than me.
“From then on I started to do a bit better.”
Murray quickly levelled the match but after twice breaking in the third set, at 2-2 and 5-5, he handed the advantage straight back and needed a tiebreak to forge ahead.
The body language of Nishikori, who has never reached the last four of the French, hardly looked promising after that and Murray marched on to his 21st grand slam semi-final.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Toby Davis