Rome: Britain's Andy Murray will head to the French Open with renewed confidence after coming close to ousting defending Rome Masters champion Rafael Nadal in a thrilling 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 quarter-final defeat.
Murray, who has only recently returned to form following several months out due to back surgery at the end of last year, stunned the Spanish world number one 6-1 in the opening set at the Foro Italico late on Friday.
World number one Nadal fought back to level the match 1-1 but had to dig deep in a pulsating third set in which he broke the Scot three times before serving out for a 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 win.
Murray admitted his disappointment with failing to win a match that seemed within his grasp, lamenting a "poor" seventh game in the final set which allowed Nadal to break back into contention.
But amid what has been a particular season for Murray, who is still without a coach after sacking Ivan Lendl, he said he would take encouragement from his performance going into Roland Garros in two weeks time.
Although claiming a win on Friday would not "change my confidence that much", Murray admitted: "Winning a match like that would probably be a big boost to confidence, but I feel that my game is getting there.
"I don't think people respect the severity of what it's like to come back from back surgery... it's a hard thing to come back from, it takes time.
"Now I'm getting back to where I want to be and that's pleasing, with a couple of big months ahead."
Whether Murray can maintain the intensity and power over the longer, five-set games at Roland Garros remains to be seen.
But for most of a hard-hitting clash with Nadal, he was in blistering form and more than once turned a crowd supporting the Spanish ace on his side.
Nadal said he "didnt feel like I was playing bad in the first set", but admitted a change of tactics was required.
"I went more to the net more in the second set. I was confident that if I was able to change something I could fight my way back into the match," said the Spaniard.
"I played a little more against his forehand... and when I went to the net, I gave him some doubts."
Nadal prevailed 6-3 to set up an enticing third set, in which neither player gave way until the seventh game while Murray was leading 4-2.
"I played a poor game at 4-2, I rushed a little bit," said Murray.
"You don't get loads of chances, and that was my chance there, so I'm disappointed at that."
Although Murray pulled a game back, Nadal broke the Scot at 5-5 and then won his final game on serve to claim a win which keeps him in contention for an eighth title in the Italian capital.
While Nadal heads to Paris looking for a ninth title, Murray's best result at the French Open is a semi-final appearance in 2011.
But going on Friday's performance, the signs look good for the 27-year-old.
"I feel like now I am hitting the ball cleanly, there are a few things that I can do better and I am going to work on it for the next 10 days," he added.
"To be honest, playing Rafa is quite a big challenge but I want to play those matches, want to be very competitive in those matches.
"I expect to feel better in 10 days. I trained hard for the last couple of weeks before Madrid and here.
"Now I'll take few days rest and be ready for the French Open."