(repeats preview moved on Thursday)
By Pritha Sarkar
PARIS, June 6 (Reuters) - Andy Murray will draw on the experience of being a grand slam champion and Ernests Gulbis will rely on his “unhealthy diet full of ketchup” as they attempt to prevent a Rafa Nadal-Novak Djokovic final at the French Open.
The last time Murray faced eight-times champion Nadal at Roland Garros, in the 2011 semi-finals, the Briton was still one of the many also-rans on the tour.
Since then, however, the Scot has captured the U.S. Open title and sent 60 million Britons into delirium by winning Wimbledon last July.
That success has made Murray believe he can pull off a feat achieved only once in the past decade - beating Nadal in a best-of-five-set match on the Spaniard’s beloved red clay.
“I obviously know how to win these tournaments now so hopefully that will give me a little bit more confidence and belief when I go on the court on Friday,” said the seventh seed who has not won a title since that surreal July day in southwest London.
“I’ll give 100 percent of what I’ve got on Friday and see how it goes.”
Even that might not be enough against a man who hates leaving Roland Garros without taking a bite out of the Musketeers’ Cup.
When Robin Soderling designed the blueprint for beating Nadal at Roland Garros in 2009, someone should have told him to copyright the plans and sell it on the open market.
Had he done so, the Swede would have had a bestseller on his hands but instead, more than five years later, he astonishingly remains the only man to have beaten Nadal at the home of claycourt tennis.
While most pundits are not convinced Murray has the firepower to stop Nadal extending his French Open win-loss record to 65-1 on Friday, the Spaniard refused to write off the Briton’s chances.
“He’s a candidate to win Roland Garros. It will be a big match and big challenge for me,” the 28-year-old Nadal, who has won 14 of their 19 meetings, told a disbelieving audience.
The only man considered to have the stamina, belief and weapons to finally knock Nadal off his lofty pedestal is Djokovic.
However, the Serb first needs to show his ketchup-loving childhood friend Gulbis that an indisciplined lifestyle does not lend itself to tennis success.
They are both graduates of the Niki Pilic academy but while Djokovic was always been a diligent student, Gulbis was more into enjoying the finer things in life - which explains why the world number two owns six grand slam titles and the Latvian’s tally stands at zero.
“He was always somebody that was very enthusiastic about everything in life, you could see he wanted to enjoy it with open arms,” grinned Djokovic as he recalled their teenage years.
”He wasn’t really committed to work hard. But now that’s changing for him. (In the last two rounds) he has won against Roger (Federer), won against Tomas (Berdych).
“He plays really well. He has a huge serve that if it goes in can give him a lot of advantage over the opponent,” added Djokovic.
“He’s definitely going to be aggressive and going to go for his shots against me.”
It has taken Gulbis 27 attempts to finally make it into the last four of a grand slam but in case fans thought he had given up the playboy lifestyle for good, he was quick to point out that it was simply on hold.
“I need to prove to myself that I can be the best that I can be in tennis and then I‘m going to have a clear and easy mind when I‘m 35 years old sitting on a beach with a ...,” the 25-year-old said as he pretended to take a sip out of an imaginary glass of champagne. (Editing by Tony Jimenez)