No2 seed and two-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray and No3 seed and defending French Open champion provided the proof of that during the first days at Roland Garros. Both men survived the sternest of tests, five-setters, played in heavy, cool conditions that delayed their starts and, in Murray’s case, was played over two days.
Both knew they would have battles on their hands anyway. Wawrinka came back from two sets to one down, 4-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, against a former giant-killer Lukas Rosol, who beat Rafael Nadal in the second round of Wimbledon in 2012.
Part of Wawrinka’s difficulty was that his preparation had been minimal. He arrived just hours after winning the Geneva title and played on the opening day here. He did, though, avoid becoming the first defending men’s champion to lose in the first round at Roland Garros after an intense 3hrs 11mins.
And come his second match, order was restored for the Swiss. He faced the No93 ranked Taro Daniel, a slight but nimble figure who favours clay. The Japanese man pushed Wawrinka hard on the warmer, drier Suzanne Lenglen court, but the Swiss held off set points for 7-6(7), and then reversed a break in the third set for a relatively straightforward conclusion, 6-3, 6-4.
For Murray, who arrived here from beating the world No1 to claim his first Masters title in Rome, the difficulties were different. He, too, had little chance to practise or warm-up for his first match against qualifier Radek Stepanek, who in contrast had plenty of time to acclimatise. That, though, was just the start.
The veteran Czech and his doubles-honed, all-court game had caused Murray problems before. By the time play was suspended on the first day, Murray was two sets to one down, and though he came back the next day to seal the fourth set, the fifth was up for grabs right to its conclusion. Murray survived, just, 3-6, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3, 7-5.
He may have expected things to be easier in the second, with the sun on his back, some bounce in the Philippe Chatrier court, and playing a man ranked 164 in his first ever grand Slam.
But 22-year-old Mathias Bourgue, who had never won a main tour match—he had spent almost the entire year in Challenger events—had a following: He was French, and when the Roland Garros crowd gets behind their man, they are a formidable force.
Murray started the stronger, and appeared to enjoy the faster conditions. Two long testing games in the fourth and the eighth games went Murray’s way with breaks, and he led 6-2 after just 40 minutes.
Murray, serving first in the second set, got a quick break, too, but a careless third game, and Bourgue broke back—and then went on a remarkable winning streak not just to the second set, 6-2, but beyond it into the third.
The Frenchman sealed the second set with two storming winners, the latest in a flood from both wings down the line, and the quality and pace of his opponent’s drops and passes seemed to dazzle and drain Murray in equal measure. And the more Bourgue fired off points—at one stage 16 in a row—the more the French crowd rose in support: The sound was joyous and deafening.
With his eighth consecutive game, Bourgue took a 2-0 lead in the third—helped by two double faults from Murray in the first game—and the Frenchman did not look like being broken. Murray plied the court with drop shots, but to no avail and had to fight just to hold serve in the seventh and ninth games. Bourgue had no trouble serving out the set with another backhand winner down the line in a little over two hours, 6-4.
Would Murray lift his level or would Bourgue drop his? The Briton was up against it straight away, but fought off three break points and produced some penetrating rallies to finally break his opponent: A hold, and he led 4-1, breaking again to level the match, 6-2.
Murray’s fitness and focus now began to tell as Bourgue’s tiredness produced more and more errors. The giveaway was the Frenchman’s request for chocolate to boost his energy. With three hours on the clock, he did save one break point in the second game, but Murray broke twice to serve it out at 5-1… only for Bourgue to produce another flurry of winners and break. By now, though, the result was inevitable: Murray survived, 6-3, after 3hrs 34mins.
Murray was, not surprisingly, complimentary of his opponent after the match: It had been a hugely impressive performance for a Grand Slam debutant.
“He was excellent. He was the one dictating a lot of the points and fought to the very end. He’s got a great future for sure. I was 6-2 and 2-0 and he began to play unbelievable. I just tried to fight through to the end.
“You can’t play too many matches like this if you want to go far in this tournament. I hope to win the next one a little bit faster.”
Murray may draw solace from his endurance and strength of purpose in this match—and the last—but he may also draw it from his next opponent’s trials. The 37-year-old No27 seed Ivo Karlovic survived a four and a half hour marathon against wild card Jordan Thompson, 6-7(2), 6-3, 7-6(3), 6-7(4), 12-10. It made the 6ft11in Croat the oldest man to reach the third round of a Major since 1991, but one thing Murray can be sure of is that their contest will not be driven by long rallies. Murray has won all six of their previous meetings—and five of their eight tie-break sets.
As he put it: “The positive is I play Karlovic in the next round, and physically, the average rally length will only be a few shots, maybe three, four shots max. So that’s a positive there. For sure tomorrow I will be tired. At least I get a day’s rest now.”
A couple of hours before Murray sealed his place in the third round, fellow Briton Kyle Edmund lost 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 to the 15th seed John Isner. The only other Briton in either singles draw, Aljaz Bedene, is first on Court 6 in Thursday’s schedule against Pablo Carreno Busta.
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