ANDY Murray must be wondering what the French Open has planned for him next.
After two days of inactivity, the world No 3 endured a little bit of everything yesterday, from the sublime (his opening set against Joao Sousa) to the ridiculous (Frenchman Fabrice Santoro in a kilt doing the post-match interview) with a couple of time violations thrown in for good measure.
No matter, Murray was strong enough to survive 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, finally dismissing Sousa in two hours and 30 minutes and now has time to regroup before he faces Nick Kyrgios tomorrow. He will need to have a serious debrief with Amelie Mauresmo, his coach, before he takes on the young Australian with the crunching serve because yesterday’s performance was a real curate’s egg of a match – only good in parts.
Murray had never lost a set to Sousa before, but the two had never met on a clay court. The Portuguese had fancied his chances going into the match, having reached the final of the Geneva tournament last weekend, but, after 40 minutes of power and precision from the Scot, Sousa was a set in arrears and looked to be heading for a quick exit. But that is when it all started to wrong for Murray.
Suddenly, his first serve went off the boil – his stats plummeted to just 36 per cent accuracy – and his mind started to wander.
The first of two time warnings did not help matters. As he went to serve, the umpire, Pascal Maria, pounced – Murray had taken longer than the 20 seconds allowed between points.
A couple of points later,
Murray had dropped his serve and a couple of games later, the second set had gone.
When he was pulled up again by Maria, this time in the third set, Murray was penalised with the loss of his first serve – now he only had one chance to get the shot right.
On this occasion, he had been doing his best to get the point started in a timely fashion, but, just as he stepped up to the line, he noticed the huge TV screen in the corner of the court was still showing the highlights of the previous rally. And, as it was right in his eyeline, he stopped. But this time, the interruption to his routine and the warning caused him no bother; this time, he served out the game and began to reel in his opponent.
“I haven’t had loads of time violations, but sometimes I have played too slow and it’s the umpire’s job to make the players play at the right speed,” Murray said. “But also how the players are supposed to know, we can’t know. Because are we supposed to spend the 20 seconds before you serve counting in your head to 20? No, you’re thinking about tactics or what you’re about to do with the serve, where you’re going to play the serve.
“At that period in the match obviously I was struggling. There was pressure building. I served badly in that set, and I brought that pressure on myself.
“Then he started to play better tennis and made it difficult for me for that 30 or 40-minute period. It was very tough in the end of the second set through to the middle of the third. But when I started serving and returning better, it obviously helped me get out of trouble.”
That was the match in a nutshell: a good first set, a dodgy set and a half in the middle and a good ending.
It was not the best match he has played in his clay-court run this year but it got the job done – he is now unbeaten in 12 matches, and, if he can find a way to beat Kyrgios, he will be safely through to the second week of the Open.
Kyrgios had been due to play Kyle Edmund yesterday, but the British No 4 pulled out the night before with a stomach muscle injury. As a result, Kyrgios had an extra day off and his tournament rhythm has been disrupted.
“These things can work many different ways,” Murray said. “If you haven’t played, you’re completely fresh. There’s no sort of residue or tiredness in the legs. So, you go out there completely fresh. And even if you get a bad start because you haven’t played any tennis for a few days, you’re still fresh enough to come back into the match as well.
“Nick is obviously a very talented guy. He likes the big stage. He’s had some good results at the slams. Also away from the slams, he obviously beat Roger [Federer] a few weeks ago on the clay.”
The last time Kyrgios was pushed into Murray’s path, it was in the Australian Open quarter-final: the new, young, Aussie hope against the established grand slam champion. Murray flattened Kyrgios in straight sets. Provided the French Open does not throw any more surprises his way, Murray might just repeat the feat tomorrow.