It is only the third round and yet Andy Murray has already played ten sets and spent seven-and-a-quarter hours on court. To say that he has worked hard for his corn so far at Roland Garros is to put it mildly.
That a qualifier and a wild card (Radek Stepanek and Mathias Bourgue respectively) could put Murray through the mill to such an extent seems unthinkable. Admittedly, both men played inspired tennis at times but they were facing the world No 2, the champion of Rome who had battered Novak Djokovic in the final just ten days before. This was not the way the first week was supposed to unfold for the Scot who, for the first time in his career, believes that he has a real chance to win the French Open title.
In contrast, Rafael Nadal has rattled through his opening two matches in just three hours and four minutes, while Djokovic has taken a little longer, but not much, needing three hours and 47 minutes to book his place in the third round. Between them, they have taken 24 fewer minutes than Murray to advance as far. Given that no man has won the title here after playing more than three five-set matches, the world No 1 and the nine-time former champion are keeping their powder dry until the second week but Murray could soon be running out of ammunition.
After such a fraught and exhausting start to the tournament, Murray was planning an easy day with the family yesterday. He has experienced people in his team to help him put his body back together again in time for today’s match with Ivo Karlovic and now that he is a proud father, he has a four month old baby daughter, Sophia, to distract him and help him clear his head.
“In Rome and Monte Carlo and in Miami, I’ve really enjoyed having family around,” Murray said after his narrow escape against Bourgue. “Today, it was a shame the match was so long as it means I don’t get to see her [Sophia] much. I only see her in the morning before we come in here. But she’ll be in bed by the time I get back. Tomorrow I will get to spend a bit of time with the family, which is always nice. And I’m not going to spend five hours at the courts tomorrow, so I will get to spend a bit more time in the house with the team and the family.
“I will only have a light practice for sure, I won’t hit many balls. Obviously if you’re not hitting the ball as well as you would like, you try to spend a bit more time on the practice court but, for me, the most important thing now is to rest and recover, basically. Tomorrow will be a very light day for me. This is why I travel with a physio, to help as much as he can in these situations. Also try and get some good food in me, good fuel, and try and recover as best I can the next 48 hours.”
Today’s match ought not to be as physically demanding as his first two rounds but it will be mentally draining. Karlovic, all 6ft 11ins of him, serves like a cannon, so break point opportunities will be few and far between – when Murray gets a chance, he needs to be alert and ready to jump on it.
So far, Karlovic has thumped away 72 aces in his first two matches and won 87 per cent of his first service points. And he has won 48 of his 50 service games. Murray, on the other hand, has served 17 aces and been broken nine times. But Murray loves playing against the big servers and he has a 6-0 winning record against the Croat.
“I think that’s because the return has always been the best part of my game,” Murray said. “So I always give myself chances to break serve, when I play Isner or play Ivo, I’ve always found ways to give myself opportunities, and find a way of holding my own serve. I’m also able to move them around a bit at the back of the court, use a bit of variety there that can throw them off a bit. A lot of the matches have been very close, and they certainly haven’t been easy matches for me. It’s always tricky against Ivo.”
Karlovic, though, is 37 years old and, until he got to Paris, had only won two matches this year. A knee injury sidelined him for six weeks in March and the start of April which has left him surprised – albeit pleasantly – that he is now in the third round here.
As ever, today’s result will depend entirely on Murray: if he can rediscover his timing and keep his concentration screwed down, he will know exactly what he needs to do to beat Karlovic. But, if he has a brain-freeze as he did against Mathias Bourgue in the last round, Murray and his followers could be in for another rollercoaster ride.
It all depends on Murray.