Andy Murray remains on course for a successful start to the post-Amelie Mauresmo era after beating Belgium's David Goffin 6-1 7-5 to reach the semi-finals of the Rome Masters.
It was a repeat meeting of last year's Davis Cup final, which Murray won to seal the trophy for Great Britain, and even though this time the Scot finished the job in two sets, he was made to work very hard nonetheless.
World number 13 Goffin produced a good comeback in the second set and briefly threatened to take the match to a decider, but second seed Murray was able to hold on and book a meeting with France's Lucas Pouille in the last four.
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Murray on form
Murray, who parted company with coach Mauresmo this week, is yet to drop a set in the tournament so far.
Victory on Friday against Goffin makes it a third straight semi-final appearance in 2016, as Murray also achieved the feat at the Monte Carlo Masters and then at the recent Madrid Masters.
In windy conditions, and with red clay dust flying about, both players exchanged breaks at the start of the first set, but Murray took control after that.
The 28-year-old used his backhand to good effect, especially on the return of serve, and was also helped by a string of unforced errors from Goffin.
Murray broke to love to go 3-1 up and more simple mistakes from Goffin meant the Belgian had a mountain to climb. Murray clinched the first set on his serve, as a Goffin forehand into the net summed up his set.
Somehow, though, that woke Goffin up, as Murray pulled a forehand wide to go 3-1 down, but the Briton fought back in a thrilling fifth game.
First, Murray was unable to capitalise on two break points before Goffin conceded two game points. Finally, the Brit found the break for 3-2 before holding serve for 3-3.
Goffin's first-set failings then resurfaced, as the Belgian was broken yet again to go 4-3 down, only for Murray to twice double-fault and give the break back.
The crowd certainly enjoyed the back-and-forth, though the players themselves may not have enjoyed being out on court amid the dust.
Unsurprisingly the breaks continued, Goffin missing a routine volley to go 5-4 down before a superb cross-court forehand winner pegged Murray back to 5-5.
The longest game of the match at nearly 10 minutes put Murray 6-5 ahead with the break, despite Goffin's hard work. It was Murray's second opportunity to close out the match on serve and Goffin, somewhat predictably, stroked a backhand long to hand the Scot victory in 94 minutes.
After the match, Murray told Sky Sports: "The conditions are extremely difficult. The wind is swirling and changing direction in between points. Also, there's no clay on the court either.
"Sometimes when they put clay on in between games it's slow, but two points later it's all blown off and it's like playing on a hard court.
"It was obviously difficult, challenging and frustrating conditions. It's difficult to play great tennis."
Murray is finding his form ahead of the year's second grand slam, the French Open, having reached the final at the Madrid Masters recently where he pushed Novak Djokovic all the way in a three-set defeat.
"I always said from the beginning of my career (clay) is the surface I enjoy playing on most," Murray said.
"It's challenging, it's hard work. I've put a lot of work in to improve on this surface and it's finally paying off. It's taken me a while to have good results, a bit more consistency.
"I haven't been in this position too often in these tournaments. It would be nice to reach my first final here."
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