Nadal has now won 26 consecutive matches in Monte Carlo
By Piers Newbery
Defending champion Rafael Nadal brought an end to Andy Murray's run at the Monte Carlo Masters with a straight-sets semi-final victory.
Nadal, winner of the last four Monte Carlo titles, won 6-2 7-6 (7-4) and was in control until a late Murray rally.
The Scot broke Nadal when the Spaniard first served for the match but was unable to come through the tie-break.
Nadal will play Novak Djokovic in the final after the Serbian beat Stanislas Wawrinka 4-6 6-1 6-3.
A defeat by Wawrinka would have seen Djokovic slip a place in the rankings and Murray become the world number three.
Murray predicts successful clay-court season
Djokovic was in trouble at times against Wawrinka, who beat fellow Swiss Roger Federer in round three, but the Serb came back from a break down in the decider to reach the final.
He will face the toughest challenge in the sport on Sunday when he comes up against the world number one and undisputed king of clay, but Murray gave the Spaniard's rivals a glimmer of hope in the second semi-final.
After the pair swapped early breaks of serve, Nadal quickly got into his stride and had Murray pinned way behind the baseline and relatively helpless for much of the opening set.
The Briton's first serve percentage of 47% did not help him and Nadal broke for the third time to seal a comfortable set.
Murray slowly worked his way into the match in the second set, with his forehand improving all the time, but he could not match Nadal in avoiding unforced errors.
A fine lunging volley from the Scot gave him game point at 2-1 down but successive errors handed Nadal a break point and another lost Murray the game.
Nadal moved smoothly enough to 5-3, his heavy topspin forehand causing all sorts of problems for Murray, but with defeat looming the Briton suddenly found his form.
In a fabulous game that saw both men hitting the heights, Murray produced some magical play that included a drop shot at match-point down on his way to breaking serve.
A tie-break followed and the quality of play remained spectacular, Murray making two brilliant winners after slipping 3-0 down before Nadal won the rally of the match with a forehand down the line to lead 5-3.
Murray's forehand was the shot that had hauled him back into the match as he attacked the Nadal backhand, but it was on that wing that the Spaniard produced a magnificent cross-court winner to earn his second match point.
Finally, Murray's resolve broke and he put a forehand into the net, bringing a pulsating encounter to an end after two hours and eight minutes.
Nadal will go into Sunday's final as a strong favourite to win a fifth successive title, but Murray will leave Monte Carlo well satisfied with reaching his first clay-court semi-final and having tested the man who is the benchmark on the surface.
"I think he's the greatest clay-court player ever," said Murray. "At the start I made too many mistakes. I was trying to hit too many winners from the wrong position.
"Then at the end of the match I started to play properly. To beat him you have to play great for three, five sets because he's so solid. If you give him one chance, he's one of the best, probably the best, at taking them."
He added: "I've obviously learnt a lot this week," he said. "The way I played at the end will give me a great indication of how I need to play."
Next up for Murray is the Rome Masters, which begins on 27 April.
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