PARIS (Reuters) - Briton Andy Murray ended home hopes by beating Gael Monfils 6-4 6-1 4-6 1-6 6-0 in a race to beat the fading light in front of a roaring crowd on Wednesday to reach his first French Open semi-final since 2011.
The last Frenchman standing in Paris sent the decibels soaring when he stole back the third and fourth sets, but Wimbledon champion Murray was in a hurry to take the fifth and ensure it did not become his second two-day match of the tournament.
Whipping up the Philippe Chatrier crowd, far from capacity after rain delayed the start of the day’s play by almost three hours, Monfils rode the Mexican waves and shouts of “Allez!” to turn the game around.
However, Murray, who had mostly been greeted with polite applause and a few chants from the visiting Brits, mined his own energy reserves to steamroller the 27-year-old in the fifth and end any dreams of Monfils emulating Yannick Noah, the last Frenchman to win their home slam in 1983.
The pair could have ended up with part or all of the final set being played on Thursday, robbing them of a rest day before taking on clay king Rafa Nadal for a place in the final after he came from a set down to beat fellow Spaniard David Ferrer.
Murray had already endured a split five-setter against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber to reach the last 16 on Sunday.
“I was told we had 20 minutes left, so you could potentially play two games, two or three games in that time. Six was the maximum that you could play. I mean, it was so dark at the end,” Murray told reporters.
“Thankfully for me he played a poor fifth set once I got ahead.”
Knowing he wasted his chance for a tilt at the title, Monfils said: ”It was dark, but I really wanted to finish tonight, because I knew that he was not in great shape. I felt better.
“Maybe that’s why I was a bit rushed in attacking him. I‘m very frustrated.”
Showing few signs of the back injury that kept him out of last year’s tournament, the seventh seed had controlled play from the baseline in the first set, although the 23rd seed kept French dreams alive with some returns from improbable angles.
The Scot stormed to a 5-1 lead in the second, but took eight set points to close it out after the game was briefly halted when a ball dropped out of Murray’s pocket during play, sending both players to lobby the umpire before Murray conceded the point.
Murray, who reached his 14th grand slam semi-final with the win, was beaten by world number one Nadal at the same stage in 2011 and acknowledged playing him is one of the toughest challenges in tennis.
None of Murray’s 28 titles have come on clay. The last Briton to win a title on clay was Buster Mottram in 1976.
Reporting by Alison Williams; editing by Toby Davis