Paris. Andy Murray will be the odd man out in Wednesday’s two remaining quarter-finals at the French Open.
The Scot will be corralled by three Spaniards, with, at their head, the imposing figure of six-times former champion Rafael Nadal.
But Nadal’s steely focus will be riveted on Nicolas Almagro as the Majorcan continues his quest to become the first man to win seven French Open titles, breaking him out of the tie he is in with Swedish legend Bjorn Borg.
Murray will have his eyes on David Ferrer, one of the finest claycourters of the last few years, but who has yet to make it past the last eight at Roland Garros.
The Scot, who came good in his fourth round tie against Richard Gasquet of France after an abysmal start that saw him once again bothered by pain in his lower back, has never beaten Ferrer on clay and he is full of admiration for his 30-year-old opponent.
“I think he’s one of the toughest guys to play on any surface,” Murray said.
“He’s number five in the world, and he’s been there for a long time now. He’s had a good clay court season so far.
“I’ve always found it tough against him on clay in matches and in practice. I train with him quite a lot, and I get on very well with him.
“We know each other’s games very well, and he’s one of the best players in the world on any surface, so it’s going to be a tough match.”
Murray made the semi-finals here last year before losing in straight sets to Nadal and now has in his corner Czech legend Ivan Lendl, who finally made his Grand Slam breakthrough here in 1984 with his famous five-set win over John McEnroe.
Murray’s former coach Alex Corretja is now close to Ferrer as Spain’s Davis Cup coach, but Murray is not too concerned about him giving away any insights into his game.
“It will be up to who plays the better tennis on the day. I don’t necessarily think that Alex will be able to help him a lot,” he said.
Almagro’s hopes against Nadal, on the face of it, look slim to say the least.
The defending champion leads their head-to-heads by 7-0, including two straight sets wins here in 2008 and 2010.
And Nadal, bouncing back from his Australian Open final loss to Novak Djokovic, has looked well nigh unbeatable in Paris losing just 19 games in four rounds for his best ever start at Roland Garros.
Still, Nadal says he is wary of Almagro, who is on an eight-match winning streak on clay, having won the Nice tournament in the week before Paris.
“He has fantastic shots. His serve helps. He has a very good serve. First and second serve are fantastic.
“Then, after this serve, he’s able to play aggressive. He’s able to hit the ball in the right conditions, in a good position. It’s very difficult to stop him.
“So my work has to be to put him in difficult positions, try to play long, try to play a little bit to the sides, to the angles, make him play a little bit more uncomfortable.”
A win for Nadal would be his 50th at Roland Garros since he first appeared as an 18-year-old in 2005. His only defeat came against Sweden’s Robin Soderling in a fourth round match in 2009.