Andy Murray stung by jibes as he battles to beat back problem

PUSHING yourself to within a couple of points of quitting, and ignoring the advice of Ivan Lendl as you do so (and he’s quite fierce, is Ivan), is probably not everyone’s idea of a perfect run through a grand slam draw but Andy Murray has never been one for convention.

After all the medical emergencies on Thursday during his second-round encounter with Jarkko Nieminen, the Scot will decide today whether he is fit enough to take on Santiago Giraldo at Roland Garros. By the time his match is called, he is hoping the muscle spasms in his back, the ones that almost caused him to default against the veteran Finn 48 hours ago, will have eased and he will be back to his brightest and best.

As he stumbled around the Court Philippe Chatrier two days ago, he looked for all the world like he was done for. Moving was painful, sitting down was positively dangerous (it meant he would have to get up again afterwards, and that was too painful to contemplate) and as for running around and hitting a tennis ball, it seemed beyond him.

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But Murray is a stubborn cuss and claiming that he “really didn’t want to stop”, he ignored Lendl and the rest of his team who told him to retire after the first set. Instead, he played through the pain to pull off a remarkable four-set win. And having survived that, he believes that he can now cope with anything.

“Coming through something like that can relax you, for sure,” Murray said. “If something like that happens, or if you’re match points down and you come back and win a match, it can have a positive effect. There’s lots of stories of guys winning tournaments when they’ve been in big losing positions, match points down, guys serving for matches a couple of breaks up and then suddenly they’ll come back and win. Then they’ll start to relax into the tournament a little bit.

“In my case, if I feel great before my next match and my body’s OK, then I’ll be more relaxed than if my last match had been a bit smoother.”

He certainly looked to be on the mend yesterday afternoon. He tested out his aching joints in a 50-minute practice session, hitting with Lendl, and after a few minutes he was moving reasonably freely and serving with some bite. He was not 100 per cent, that was plain, but he was much, much better than he had been just 24 hours before. Andy Ireland, Murray’s physiotherapist, will be earning his money in the next few days but, so far, his magic massages seem to be doing the trick.

Of course, Virginia Wade may have helped speed the Scot’s recovery. As he was hobbling to his remarkable victory on Thursday, Wade, the 1977 Wimbledon champion, was informing the nation, via Eurosport, that Murray’s behaviour was simply not on. It was not the done thing for a chap to call for the trainer, limp around the baseline and then win.

“I have tremendous sympathy that his back is bad but I have more sympathy for the other guy as, honestly, you cannot play against someone who is being a drama queen,” Wade harrumphed from the safety of her studio in Feltham, south-west London.

Such a trashing from someone Murray had regarded as an old friend – he has known Wade since he was a little boy – was enough to make his blood boil. Had he had two broken legs, he would still have stood his ground to defend his reputation.

“She has no idea what I was feeling on the court,” Murray seethed. “She doesn’t know what was happening 20 minutes before I went out onto the court, what I was feeling, what I was doing.”

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Anyone who saw him after that Nieminen match – which would exclude Wade who was a couple of hundred miles away – had a pretty clear idea of how much pain he was in. It took nearly two hours for him to emerge from the treatment room, and when he did, he was walking with all the ease and freedom of an Egyptian mummy. Wincing as he walked and lowering himself carefully into his chair, this was not play-acting; here was a bloke who had absolutely no right to be in the third round of the French Open and yet thanks to a combination of God-given talent and sheer bloody-mindedness, he had somehow managed to find a way to win.

Giraldo knows a little more about men’s tennis than Wade and is taking nothing for granted. He does not trust Murray not to have made a complete recovery and even if the Scot is still struggling, knows that players of Murray’s calibre do not give in without a fight.

“I will try to be focused on myself,” Giraldo said. “I can’t be focused on him because that would not be good for me. I will expect a tough match and I will try to do my best. I think I can play with him on any surface, but especially on clay I know that I have more of a chance.

“I’m playing good, I’m feeling very well, so if he has problems it will be tough for him to play three or five sets. So I will have to try my best and to play good tennis to win.

“I’ll be prepared for a tough match. I don’t know what the situation is with Andy’s back. He won against Nieminen, so I suppose he can play. I will depend on my tennis and hopefully get the best result that I can.”

They have only played once before, when Murray allowed his Colombian foe just three games. As a result, Giraldo knows what to expect if the Scot is fit. What he has yet to learn is what it is like to play Murray when the Scot has a point to prove to an ageing former player and when he believes that he has already experienced the worst that the French Open has to throw at him.