Pressure now on Murray's shoulders

1/27/2011 - Tennis Andy Murray David Ferrer + more

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Devoid of pressure, Andy Murray put on a virtuoso display against Rafael Nadal in last year's Australian Open quarterfinals.

Nadal's retirement in the third set due to a knee injury had little to do with the result. He was thoroughly outplayed as Murray dictated from the baseline, served big and mixed it up. In short, Murray flashed his vast, impressive arsenal at a major unlike he ever had before.

On Wednesday afternoon in Melbourne, after Murray downed the awkwardly talented Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov in four entertaining sets, everyone expected the Scot and Nadal to battle again at Rod Laver Arena. Their most recent encounter was a three-hour slugfest at the World Tour Finals.

The tennis gods, as well as an inspired David Ferrer, had other ideas.

Nadal's hamstring let him down, and the world No. 7 wasn't about to let him off the hook. He felt bad for his fellow Spaniard and Davis Cup teammate but took care of business.

Ferrer advanced in straight sets, ending the possibility of a "Rafa Slam" as well as reaching a second career Grand Slam semifinal. He looked relaxed as he sauntered to the locker room, casually chatting to a Spanish reporter.

He'll probably be relaxed Friday night, since on this occasion, the burden shifts to Murray.

Murray is fully expected to defeat Ferrer, given that he's never lost a set to the 28-year-old on hard courts. Murray crushed Ferrer at November's World Tour Finals.

Funny thing, that pressure. Despite routing Nadal 12 months ago, Murray froze in the final against Roger Federer.

"The great thing for Andy these two weeks is that it's just been Roger and Rafa, and no one has really been talking about Andy and Novak Djokovic," said Samantha Smith, a veteran British TV analyst working for host broadcaster Channel 7. "I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on Andy against Ferrer because everyone is already expecting him in the final."

British bookmaker William Hill certainly tips Murray to land in Sunday's finale, installing him as the 2-7 favorite against Ferrer. Smith, a former pro, gives Ferrer a better shot than that.

Ferrer doesn't possess Murray's versatility, yet he is mentally tough, returns with the best of them and rarely misses from the baseline. Ferrer is unbeaten in 2011, too, winning a warm-up event in New Zealand.

And while Ferrer has played at night on center court, Murray hasn't. Conditions are markedly different than in the day.

"I watched a bit of Ferrer against Rafa, and even against a really fit Rafa, it could have been a five-set epic," Smith said. "I saw him practicing with his shirt off the other day with a lot of other women and we were peering over. He has the most amazing upper body and is in great shape. I don't think it's a done deal."

Murray, perhaps readying to confront Nadal, sounded almost defeatist in Wednesday's news conference. Asked whether he wanted to win a major more now, he said not really. Great Britain is desperate for a men's Grand Slam champion, though; it has not produced one since Fred Perry at the U.S. Open in 1936.

"It's not something that I lose sleep over," said Murray, two spots higher than Ferrer in the rankings. "It's something that I work very hard towards, the reason I train hard. But this is obviously for me what my job is. Tennis is very important to me. If things don't go well on the tennis court, I've got very good friends and family to fall back on."

No Nadal means things should go well against Ferrer, pressure or no pressure.

Prediction: Murray in four.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.