IT IS not exactly the grudge match of the tournament but, even so, the French players must be sick of the sight of Andy Murray.
Today, weather permitting, Murray will take on France’s No 6, Jeremy Chardy, in what should be a foregone conclusion.
Murray’s record against French players is quite remarkable: he has won 75 of 90 matches against Frenchmen. Better still, he has won his last 11 matches against home players at their home Grand Slam tournament (two Australians in Melbourne, five Frenchmen at Roland Garros and four Americans in Flushing Meadows). And he has not lost to a Frenchman at any Grand Slam event since his first round defeat at the hands of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Australia in 2008 – that is a run of 22 consecutive victories. Add to that Murray’s unbeaten run of 13 matches on clay this year and it is no wonder the French dread the sight of Murray in the draw.
The Parisians are a hard crowd to please. Not only do they want their players to win, they want them to win with style, with panache, with élan. When a foreigner plays a Frenchman, the crowd makes its presence felt; when the Frenchman fails to live up to the locals’ high standards, the crowd turns on him. Roland Garros can be a hostile environment no matter which way you look at it. Not that Murray cares – with that winning record, he is used to being the object of the crowd’s displeasure around these parts.
“I don’t mind playing in those kinds of atmospheres,” he said. “Obviously I prefer it when the crowd is behind you but it’s something that you have to enjoy. It’s a challenge and when you accept it’s going to be the case before a match you deal with it.
“One of the things that I try to do before going on for those sort of matches is prepare myself: ‘OK, the crowd is going to be tough’, and just get myself in the right frame of mind before I go out there. I don’t know if all players do that or talk about that with their coach but that’s something I always try to do. I think it’s something that, when I was younger, would have affected me but now I feel like I’m experienced and, having won 11 in a row [against home players at home Slams], you experience those atmospheres many times.
“So it’s not something that fazes me when I go out on court; I just go out and try to play.
“It’s not like every time I’m playing away it’s been against Rafa or Roger or Novak, so I don’t know why I have a good record, but I do enjoy it.”
His record against Chardy makes pretty comforting reading, too: played seven, won six. Their one and only meeting on clay was a couple of weeks ago at the Italian Open where, to nobody’s great surprise, Murray won in straight sets. But then he pulled out of the tournament citing tiredness – he wanted to rest and recover and be ready for the French Open. Had Murray pulled out 24 hours earlier, Chardy would still have been in the tournament. “I was a little bit annoyed,” Chardy said. “If you want to win a Grand Slam, everybody is tired, for me. So I was a little bit annoyed when I see he retired [in Rome] because of tiredness. But it’s his choice, and for the moment he’s doing well. So, if he win Roland Garros, everybody will say it was a good choice. If he loses, it will be wrong.
“He’s so confident, he didn’t lose a match on a clay court. Roland Garros: I think for him it’s a big goal. So it will be a really tough match. In the past, we always said Andy doesn’t like to play on clay court, but now I think he likes to play on clay.”
One of the reasons for Murray’s clay court success this year has been his serve. Over the course of a career, he has won 75 per cent of his service games on the red dirt.
“But this year, he has battened down the hatches even further and coming to Paris he had won 91 per cent of his service games while, in the first three rounds of the French Open, he has only dropped serve five times – an 88 per cent hold rate. But statistics and number crunching become redundant the moment Murray steps out in front of the French crowd today.
He knows what to expect from the spectators but he is not getting too worked up about the issue.
Where Novak Djokovic claims to spend up to 15 minutes a day doing mental press-ups to prepare himself for pressure situations, Murray is a bit more straight forward. Djokovic wants to be the Yogi of the men’s tour; Murray just wants to be the bloke in the quarter-finals by end of play today.
“I try and tell myself when they’re booing me, they’re booing him,” Murray said simply. “I try to draw on it. The way I handle it is I talk about it and prepare for it and then when I’m on the court. I don’t do any exercises, I just get on with it.”
And if the match plays out true to form, the French will have even more cause to boo Murray by the time his work is done.