ELEVEN wins and counting. As clay court records go, 11 wins are not up there with the best of the best (Rafael Nadal went 81 matches unbeaten between 2005 and 2007, after all) but for a bloke who had never won a clay-court title before this year, it was more than enough to settle the nerves and buff up the confidence. Andy Murray was off and running at the French Open.
In theory, Facundo Arguello ought not to have caused Murray too many problems and a quick look at the scoreline – 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 in the Scot’s favour – would suggest just that. But there was a little more to it than that.
I’m glad to have got through the first one and hopefully I can play better as the tournament goes on.Andy Murray
Arguello’s ranking is just 137 in the world (he had inched up a couple of spots in the pecking order since last week) and the Scot had never lost to anyone ranked so low at a Grand Slam before.
Not only that, but the Argentine has struggled to win a match on the main tour all year. But tennis matches are not just about black-and-white statistics – even Grand Slam champions are still only human and Murray was nervous as he set to work.
Never before had he come to Paris with such ambitions. His clay-court game clicked into place from the very start of the season, his results have taken everyone by surprise and he has every right to believe that he is one of the challengers for the title. That brings with it new pressures and new expectations.
“I was nervous today,” he admitted. “The first rounds of major tournaments are always tough and the conditions were tricky – it was windy at the start. But I like that; I like the nerves. It shows you care.
“I think almost every time I played in a Slam in the first round, I’ve felt nervous. Sometimes it’s because you get here quite early and although that’s a positive in the long run – you get used to the conditions and you prepare properly – it’s also quite a long build-up, which we don’t have at loads of the other events. And then also these are the tournaments that you really want to perform well in.
“The start of the tournament is always normal to be a little bit nervous.”
The nerves were clearly stretched tight at the start as it took Murray eight minutes to hold his opening service game, and, in only the second point of the match, he unwrapped his trusty drop shot only to watch it limp into the net.
To be fair, Arguello had set up camp about a mile behind the baseline and it did seem churlish not to try to catch him unawares. Anyway, a couple of points later Murray dropped in another little dink and landed it perfectly.
Arguello is a compact little unit – a little more than 12 stones of muscle welded on to a 5ft 10ins frame, most of it around the derriere. That provides the power source for a forehand that could split concrete – he loves to crack his forehand, does Arguello, and sometimes it even goes in. Alas, frequently it has the people in the posh seats diving for cover as yet another shanked piledriver heads their way.
All in all, it took a while for Murray to work out exactly what it was that the Argentine was capable of doing and when he was likely to do it. But once those questions had been answered, the world No 3 was in the driving seat.
Once the first set had been wrapped up safely, Murray allowed himself to relax a little and, by the second set, he was looking like the man who came to Roland Garros as the champion of Munich and Madrid. By the third set, he was winning at a canter.
“He has a good forehand,” Murray said. “I think when he has time, he can move the ball around the court well with the forehand. He’s quick and fast. He retrieves a lot of balls. I think he could definitely serve a little bit bigger.
“I felt like when I was able to dictate the points and get some good depth into his backhand, then I was able to dictate a lot of the points.
“When he hit the first ball with his forehand, he was able to make me run and do a lot of moving. But, you know, he’s a tough, tough player.”
Murray now has at least one day off – a rare luxury in the first week of a major tournament – as he waits to see who will come through to face him in the second round.
Today Vasek Pospisil and Joao Sousa will play for the right to meet the Scot – not that the result should cost Murray too much sleep.
He has a 5-0 winning record over Sousa and has beaten him at the Australian Open and in Dubai this year, and he has a 3-0 winning record over Pospisil, having beaten the Canadian in Indian Wells and Rotterdam this season. In fact, Murray has never dropped a set to either man.
Murray may have quite a way to go before he dares to bring up the subject of winning runs on clay with his friend Nadal but, for the moment, 11 wins with a distinct possibility of making that 12 is more than enough to keep him happy.