Andy Murray went into his Rogers Cup semi-final in Montreal needing to defeat Frenchman Jo Wilfried Tsonga to become the first male player from Britain to claim a place in the world's top two in the modern era. Murray, who enjoys the North American hardcourt season - he went close to his first major title when losing to Roger Federer in last year's US Open final - found himself favourite to win the prestigious Masters Series event following the unexpected quarter-final exit of Federer and the less surprising defeat of Rafael Nadal.
The Scot cruised past the eighth-ranked Nikolay Davydenko 6-2, 6-4. If he reaches Sunday's final, Nadal will slip down further in Monday's rankings. Nadal, who looked secure in the top ranking for the foreseeable future after winning the Australian Open in January - his third grand slam triumph out of four - surrendered that top spot to Federer when he failed to make a defence of his Wimbledon title.
Tendinitis in both knees has led to the decline of Nadal, who made his Tour comeback in Montreal after going into a two-month period of rest and rehabilitation in the aftermath of his sensational Roland Garros defeat at the hands of Sweden's Robin Soderling. The Spaniard warned before travelling to Canada that he was not expecting too much too soon and was relieved to have avoided early embarrassment in a high-class Rogers Cup field.
Only he knows, however, how much effort he put into a one-sided second set against the powerful Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro, winner of this event 12 months ago. A recovering Nadal's strategy to go all out for victory after losing a tight opening set at this stage of his comeback may have been unwise. In the unlikely event that he was at full throttle, a 7-6, 6-1 verdict is a worrying sign. "I have to be happy with the tournament," said Nadal, who will continue with his return in Cincinatti next week. "Del Potro is playing very well and I was at the same level as him in the first set. I thought if I could win the first set I could relax a little in the second and try again in the third.
"After two months out of competition it's tough to play at that level - I needed to concentrate more but the knees were very good." Similarly, Federer, playing his first tournament since a record 15th grand slam title at Wimbledon and the birth of his twin daughters, may not have been totally committed as he re-tunes his game for the US Open. Federer insisted afterwards that he was keen to keep his winning run going. However, it was most unlike the Swiss to allow Tsonga to fight his way back from 5-1 down in the deciding set.
Tsonga secured a surprise 7-6, 1-6, 7-6 passage into a semi-final date with Murray, the winner playing either Andy Roddick, who ousted fourth seed Novak Djokovic, or Del Potro in the final. There was no such lethargy from Murray as he hammered the normally resolute Russian Davydenko for the loss of only six games. The 22-year-old is profiting from a punishing training regime in the heat and humidity of Miami before travelling to Canada.
"It's difficult to know how to rate today's match," said Murray, who knew he would have to run around more than he did when accounting for Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero in the previous round. "I felt great against Ferrero and this was just a different match where I was very happy with the way I executed my game plan." email@example.com