By Ros Satar
- Andy Murray  v Lucas Pouille [LL] – First meeting
ROME, ITALY – Andy Murray continues to show his clay court poise as he swept into the Rome semi-finals.
Andy Murray  v Lucas Pouille [LL] – First meeting
Pouille has been the luckiest of lucky losers. First he comes in for wounded compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and carries the unenviable mantle of ‘France’s next best thing’. Then he gets a walkover into his first Masters semi-final to boot when Juan Monaco withdrew with a hip injury.
On the flip side of the coin, Murray delivered the finest rebuke to the impudence of young David Goffin, who broke him in the first game of their quarter-final by ripping through the first set without dropping another game.
The second set was quite another matter as the pair traded breaks this way and that. Any time Goffin broke the Brit, he was broken straight back, but Murray just had one break extra along the way, and Goffin to give him credit hung on to the grim end, at some stage fending off four break points before succumbing to the fifth that would set Murray up for the finish.
Goffin, who had handed down an impressive 6-0 6-0 beat-down to Tomas Berdych in the third round perhaps struggled more than the Brit in the blustery conditions, as Murray explained to ATPWorldTour.com:
“Obviously I knew that he must have been playing well coming into the match, and I went in expecting it to be very tough.
“He got off to the best possible start. But it was very hard from that end of the court. You’re playing right into the wind.
“That was probably the most pleasing thing about the match today. Each time I got broken, I think I broke back every time. So I never allowed him to get any momentum and that was good.”
He faces an unknown quantity in Pouille who possesses solid ground-strokes, great co-ordination and a decent serve and return game. So why have we not heard much about him before? Well we’re about to. This year he has reached the third round in Monte Carlo, the final in Bucharest, had qualies and a couple of rounds in Madrid before this run starting in qualies also.
Where he is likely to be exploited by Murray is in his movement and defence. Murray can toy with players like a vindictive cat but on his results on the clay this season, Pouille is no timid mouse and he has absolutely nothing to lose.
Expect him to be hard for Murray to infiltrate and it could take a competitive first set for Murray to figure out how to break him.
Prediction: Murray in three sets
Novak Djokovic  v Kei Nishikori  – H2H: Djokovic leads 8-2
Novak Djokovic edged out Rafael Nadal in perhaps the best of the quarter-finals to book his place in the semi-finals. With Nadal’s confidence increasing each tournament, this turned out to be one of their closest matches in almost two years.
It was Djokovic once more on the back foot, having to come back from breaks down in both sets to prevail, as he notched up a seventh straight win over the Spaniard, increasing his head to head lead to 26-23.
As reported by ATPWorldTour.com, Djokovic said on court after the match: “Even though I had nervy beginnings to both sets, with some good games and good play in the crucial moments, I managed to win. It’s a straight-sets win, but it feels like we played five sets.
“Winning against Nadal is the ultimate challenge on clay courts and one of the toughest challenges we have in sport. I have to be very pleased with the way I handled myself in the big moments today. I won against one of my biggest rivals on his preferred surface. We must not forget he’s in form. He won Monte-Carlo and Barcelona and has played well the past couple of weeks. That gives me confidence for the rest of this tournament.”
Djokovic will face Nishikori in the night match on Saturday, having been pushed hard in their semi-final in Madrid. Nishikori will have rued his missed chances in the second set tie-break last weekend, but regretful thinking is not enough at this level. He has beaten Djokovic when the Serbian was the favourite and when he had been pushed to his own physical limits.
Once more Nishikori looked to be struggling physically against Thiem and there is a thought that he is a slight man playing a bigger man’s game and it is taking its toll. He is far fitter than he used to be, but Djokovic will be brutal as we can expect him to lift his level. There will be chances – this time can Nishikori capitalise?
Prediction: Djokovic in three sets.
Murrray and Pouille are scheduled on Centre Court, not before 2:30pm (1:30pm BST), with Djokovic and Nishikori not before 8pm (7pm BST).
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