Andy Murray has spent the last five months huffing and puffing his way around the world in search of something. He is not completely sure what it is but he thinks he will know it when he sees it.
Most of the illness and injury problems are behind him – save for a cough, the last remnants of the cold he caught on his way to Roland Garros – and now he just needs to find that little spark that will help secure the locks on his concentration and kindle the fire in his belly. Then, he hopes, he will be able to produce the sort of tennis that got him to the No 1 ranking.
And, as luck would have it, the French Open draw may have thrown up just what Murray is looking for: step forward Martin Klizan of Slovakia.
Klizan is talented – he is ranked No 50 in the world – he is unorthodox in style (a lefthander who can either land a cannonball forehand on a sixpence or in Row Z) but he is also a meltdown waiting to happen. On a good day, he is a handful for anyone and has won five titles in his career; on a bad day he can make a rabid porcupine seem warm and cuddly. And there have been more bad days than good of late for Klizan.
On Tuesday, he tanked sets, cheered his opponent’s errors and riled the crowd with his antics as he beat Laurent Lokoli, a wild card entry from France. The crowd turned on Klizan, so Klizan turned on Lokoli and demanded that the Frenchman do something to calm them down. Fuming after putting up with this behaviour for the best part of four hours, Lokoli accused the Slovak of feigning injury and showing no respect.
But this was no isolated incident. In Monte Carlo last month Klizan managed to earn not one but two game penalties as he lost to Nicolas Almagro. Bouncing one racket, smashing a courtside umbrella, obliterating another racket and arguing with the umpire racked up the demerits and without hitting a ball, he went from 3-0 to 5-0 down in a matter of minutes.
Last year, Nicolas Mahut complained bitterly about Klizan’s attitude after the Slovak hit him with the ball in their match in Rotterdam while, in that well-known tennis stronghold Poprad Tatry, Klizan beat Adam Pavlasek but inexplicably threw the second set 6-0 by playing the sort of tennis a Sunday hacker would be ashamed of.
Still, no matter what the Slovak comes up with today, Murray thinks he will be ready for it. He has learned his lesson from the Australian Open final of 2015 when he allowed himself to become distracted by Novak Djokovic’s apparent physical distress – one minute he was wobbling around on spaghetti legs, the next he was running like the wind – and lost in four sets. He knows now how to keep his attention locked on his own side of the net. He also beat Klizan in Vienna last year so he knows what he is letting himself in for.
“It can be tough but I’ve played well over 800 matches on the tour so I’ve seen pretty much everything,” Murray said. “There wouldn’t be too much that would surprise me or shock me when I’m out there now. If he’s tanking sets against me, I’m happy with that. Maybe he doesn’t.
“I’ve seen him play. He’s an unorthodox player. He’ll go through patches in the match where he’s playing some unbelievable stuff and then he drops off a little bit and plays some strange shots which may appear like he’s not interested but that’s how he plays the game. That’s what’s been successful for him.”
Klizan maintains that he was struggling in the fourth set against Lokoli (he lost it 6-0 in 28 minutes) and he has been sidelined with a calf injury for the past three weeks but whether he is hurt or not, Murray is not fussed: if Klizan wants to give away sets, that is fine by Murray. “Obviously tanking sets is not good for the fans or anyone watching,” Murray said. “For his opponent, it’s a positive thing because he’s basically handing a set over. Faking injury? I’ve no idea – I didn’t see the match. I saw in some of the videos he had his calf pretty heavily strapped so I don’t know if that was something he went into the match with or not. But he obviously did OK to last. They played something like three hours and 45 minutes so it’s obviously not too bad.”
A win over Klizan in the second round of the French Open may not go down in the history books as a major achievement but if the irritable Slovak can make Murray focus and can bring the best out of him, it will be another important step forward as Murray tries to get back to his peak.