Paris, Jun 3: Five-time champion Rafael Nadal proved too strong for Andy Murray as he battled past the Briton in straight sets to reach the French Open final.
The Spaniard, celebrating his 25th birthday, refused to be blown off course by the gusting wind as he sealed a 6-4 7-5 6-4 victory on Court Philippe Chatrier, and he now awaits the winner of the second semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Nadal might well have lost his grip on the world number one ranking by Sunday's final, with Djokovic poised to replace him next week should he win his semi-final, but he will still have the huge incentive of potentially matching Bjorn Borg's record six French Open titles.
For Murray, a best-ever run at Roland Garros ended with a defeat that was widely predicted against a man who has now won 44 matches, and lost only one, in seven trips to the French Open.
Britain's 75-year wait for a Grand Slam singles champion to follow Fred Perry goes on, and Paris always seemed the least likely venue for Murray to make the breakthrough, but he had his chances to extend Nadal further than the three sets they played.
Nadal once saved 16 of 17 break points against Federer in a Roland Garros final and his powers of recovery were similarly evident as he saw off 15 of 18 against Murray, while taking six of 13 earned.
After breaking for 2-1 with a forehand whipped down the line, the Spaniard then saw off four break-back chances in a gripping fourth game thanks in part to one stunning defensive backhand, as well as a slice of fortune when a mishit forehand dropped on the baseline.
The first four games had taken 28 minutes but it looked like the set would be over within another 10 when Nadal broke once again and moved 5-1 clear, only for the top seed to hand one of the breaks back with a surprisingly poor eighth game.
Murray has played his best tennis when behind this fortnight and he did so once again, winning two punishing rallies on set points for Nadal and looking ready to level at 5-5, but two more break points went begging when the Scot was caught out by some vicious topspin and a superb Nadal serve-volley.
The Spaniard took the set but Murray had let him know he was a real threat and the world number four was the first to make a move in the second, only for a huge gust of wind to disrupt him on break point of game two, before Nadal saved a second with a blistering forehand and a cry of “Vamos!”
When Murray played a disastrous game that included a double fault and a poor drop shot to slip 3-2 behind, there seemed to be an inevitability about where the match was heading, but incredibly Nadal gifted him the break back with a double fault for 3-3.
Two more breaks followed in quick succession, Nadal taking his chance with a quite brilliant rally of huge hitting and sharp angles before Murray levelled once again with a return right at the champion's toes.
A tie-break loomed large but Nadal had other ideas at 5-5, ignoring the sight of a spectator's hat blowing across the court to recover from 40-15 down and convert his third break point of the game with another spectacular off-forehand.
This time he did not let his opponent back into the set and, with dark clouds moving across the stadium court and the wind continuing to interject, a break at the start of the third proved enough, despite another six break points coming and going for Murray.
A time of three hours and 17 minutes for three sets spoke of a real contest, but for the 44th time at Roland Garros it was always Nadal who looked like prevailing.