ANDY MURRAY will try to break new ground today when he meets David Ferrer in the quarter-final here at Roland Garros.
The Scot leads their head-to-heads 5-4, but Ferrer, known as the "little beast" for his fighting qualities on court, has won all three of their meetings on clay.
The Spaniard's consistency, speed and grit are at their most effective on the slowest surface, and Murray knows talk of a semi-final rematch against Rafael Nadal is very premature.
He said: "I think he's one of the toughest guys to play on any surface. He's No.6 in the world, and has been there for a long time. He's had a good clay-court season.
"I've always found it tough against him on clay in matches and in practice. I train with him quite a lot, and I get on very well with him.
"We know each other's games very well, and he's one of the best players in the world on any surface, so it's going to be a tough match."
Although history is not in Murray's favour, the pair have not played each other on clay for two years, and since that meeting, in Madrid, the Scot has won four of their five clashes on hard courts.
"Every match is differ- ent," said Murray. "A lot of the clay courts play differently, quicker, slower. Conditions change things.
"We'll just see now whether having lost to him a few times on the clay before is a factor or not."
It has been an eventful tournament again for the 25-year-old, mostly centring around the back spasm that troubled him so badly against Jarkko Nieminen in the second round.
That was a factor in his slow start against Richard Gasquet on Monday, the Frenchman winning the opening set 6-1.
However, having edged the second, Murray showed his considerable arsenal of shots, bamboozling his opponent with a series of lobs in particular.
Murray relished being the anti-hero in front of a passionate French crowd, saying afterwards it was the most fun he had had on a court in a long time, and most importantly he is also very happy with his form.
"I feel like I'm playing well," he said. "I'm striking the ball cleanly. The tournament has been difficult for a few reasons. But the changing conditions have been tough for all players.
"It was 33 degrees on the court the other day, and (on Monday) it was 14 or 15 and very slow and heavy. So that's what's been challenging about it. But I'm playing well."
Ferrer has never been past the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, losing to Nadal in 2005 and Gael Monfils on his last appearance in the last eight four years ago, but he has looked in supreme form this week.
In four matches, the 30-year-old has dropped only 25 games and never more than four in a set.
He said: "I don't know if I'm playing my best tennis, it's difficult to say that, but of course I am in a good moment. I am playing very good this tournament. And also this season. I'm very happy about that."
Reflecting on his past record against Murray, Ferrer added: "Every match is different and I know to beat Andy I need to play my best tennis. He is very, very good on a clay court and all surfaces."
Nadal meets compatriot Nicolas Almagro for a place in the last four today.