Rafa chasing Borg's record
Five-times champion Rafa Nadal sparked off his 25th birthday celebrations on Friday by blowing Andy Murray off court with a 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 win to reach the French Open final.
The Spaniard, bidding to equal Bjorn Borg's record of six titles at Roland Garros, outplayed the British fourth seed in a three-hour-17-minute display of power and stamina as he set up a much-awaited showdown with Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic.
"I'm happy to be back here," Nadal said courtside after throwing his bandana into the crowd.
"Andy is a fantastic player, he deserves to win a grand slam very, very soon. Now I'm going to play the best player of the moment or the best player in history.
"But the most important thing is to be there."
Image: Rafael Nadal reacts after defeating Andy Murray
Nadal's all-round game too hot to handle for Murray
Nadal, who will lose his world number one spot if Serbia's Djokovic reaches the final later on Friday, was often at his brilliant best on Court Philippe Chatrier.
His amazing court coverage, vicious forehands and crosscourt backhands were too much to handle for Murray, who was bidding to become the first British man to reach the final at Roland Garros since Bunny Austin in 1937.
Nadal, who now has a 44-1 record at the French Open, teased Murray by handing him a few openings. But that was as good as it got for the fourth seed because almost every time he earned a break point, Nadal slammed the door shut with yet another fizzing winner.
Image: French businessman Francois-Henri Pinault and his actress wife Salma Hayek watch the semi-final match between Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray
'He dictated points with his forehand'
"I had a lot of break opportunities but he played them well. He was able to dictate the points with his forehand," a dejected Murray, who twisted his ankle in the third round here, told a news conference.
"I think I'm much better on clay than I was last year."
Nadal converted six of his 13 points while Murray managed only three from 18 chances.
Nadal broke in the third game with a forehand winner down the line.
Murray, however, set up three break points in the following game but could only watch on as Nadal used his sliced, left-handed serve to save them.
He punished the Scot with his trademark crosscourt forehand winners to move 5-1 up as he gradually found his rhythm.
But Murray, who showed his class with a few exquisite drop shots and delicate lobs, would not give up without a fight and he pulled a break back for 5-3 when Nadal netted a routine forehand.
Image: Andy Murray leaves the court after the semi-final
Nadal's crosscourt forehand sealed a decisive break
Following an argument with the umpire over a line call, Nadal appeared to lose his focus and allowed Murray to earn a break point. But the Spaniard pushed his opponent to the limit and pocketed the set when the Scot netted.
Both players traded breaks midway through the second set.
The 11th game became a battle of wills as the ball became a crosscourt pendulum during several sinew-stretching rallies, with both players determined to gain the upper hand.
In the end it was the claycourt master who came out on top with yet another crosscourt forehand to seal a decisive break for 6-5.
He comfortably held to love to go two sets up as Murray piled up unforced errors.
Nadal opened up a 2-0 lead in the third set as Murray seemed to run out of steam. The 24-year-old Scot, who has yet to win a grand slam title, hung on in the third set but in the end he was powerless to stop the world number one from reaching his sixth final in seven years.
Image: Rafael Nadal plays a return
Federer stops Djokovic to reach final
Roger Federer ended Novak Djokovic's 41-match winning streak with a 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 victory on Friday to set up a French Open final meeting with old rival Rafa Nadal.
Serbian second seed Djokovic went off the rails as the third-seeded Federer raised his game to new heights to reach his fifth final at Roland Garros, and his first grand-slam final since last year's Australian Open.
The 16-times grand slam champion, who will meet world number one Nadal on Sunday, recovered from a break down in the opening set, which he bagged by winning the tiebreak 7-5.
Federer, the 2009 champion, rode the momentum to break for 3-1 in the second set, which he won after saving a break point in the ninth game with an ace.
Image: Roger Federer
Federer has never beaten Nadal in previous finals
With his back to the wall, Djokovic, who would have equalled John McEnroe's 1984 record of 42 wins since the start of a season and become world number one had he reached the final, pulled a set back after snatching Federer's serve in the second game.
Federer, however, left the crowd in awe with a superb passing backhand down the line, and stunned his opponent with a second-serve ace as the fourth set was thrown into a twilight shootout which the Swiss won 7-5 with an ace.
Federer has never beaten Nadal in three previous French Open final encounters.
Image: Roger Federer