French Open 2011: Murray overcomes injury in style
British hearts were in mouths when Murray suffered an ankle injury, but it seemed merely to galvanise the Scot
Andy Murray faced his first main-draw opponent in the third round of what is turning into a pleasingly open quarter for the Scot.
Having dismissed a qualifier and then a lucky loser, there seemed little to trouble the Scot in his latest opponent either.
World No95, Michael Berrer, a 30-year-old veteran from Germany, had never before reached the third round in a Grand Slam and his French record was his weakest: a total of two first-round exits.
The big German had exceeded expectations, however, in taking out first Milos Raonic and then Arnaud Clement: He seemed, in short, to be liking the faster conditions at this year’s tournament.
He certainly looked pretty at home in the opening set, and put on a great demonstration of all-court power, especially with a backhand reminiscent of Feliciano Lopez -a big, flat, left-handed drive of a shot.
Even so, Murray quickly asserted his superiority with the form that has brought some success on this year’s clay. He ran to a 3-0 lead and held off Berrer’s only break point opportunity in the seventh game to take a 5-2 lead.
The German then found himself facing three break points and saved two with some big serving but Murray took the third for a 6-2 set.
The score belied the competitiveness of the tennis, It was an enthralling and entertaining 35 minutes of drop shots and volleys: Berrer scored 13 winners from 17 net approaches and both men made more winners than unforced errors.
Murray continued to attack the gutsy play of the German, and almost broke through in a 24-minute second game of infinite deuces and magnificent exchanges between the two.
Berrer held but then went 0-40 down on his next serve and that was when the drama really began. Murray ran down a drop shot, turned his ankle and hopped in pain before collapsing on the court.
Play came to grinding halt -and it seemed for 10 minutes that this may well be the end of Murray’s French campaign. But a few metres of black binding and some pain killers later, and Murray took up his racket to continue. What’s more, he took the remaining break point for a 3-1 lead.
Murray was still limping badly between points and when he was broken to love by Berrer, there was concern written all over the faces in his box. But with a roar of “Get some passion!” he did just that. He broke Berrer again and seemed to throw himself into every rally with greater energy and attack.
It was a wonderful passage of play from the Scot, the kind of offensive style that brought success over Roger Federer on the hard courts in the latter half of last year.
With a slight adjustment to the ankle strapping at one change of ends, he ran away to a 6-3 second set with some accurate, powerful and committed shot-making, especially on the forehand. Even his forward motion seems solid despite the pronounced limp.
And so it continued. Murray maintained his aggression and focus throughout the third set, sealing it in just half an hour at 6-2.
This match of two distinct halves showed the difference between a world No4 and two-time Grand Slam finalist, and a man of clear talent, power and fitness but without that x-factor.
The injury served to galvanise the Scot to bring out his most aggressive and accurate tennis. He played nine winners in the opening set but, anxious to get things done and dusted after his injury, he produced 13 in the second and 12 in the third. His serve percentage, too, improved with each set, opening at 61 and finishing at 75.
In contrast, Berrer lost focus and lacked, it seemed, that essential killer-instinct -the quality that Murray showed, to the Monte Carlo crowd’s dislike, against a similarly injured Gilles Simon.
What Murray did not do after his fall was use the clay-court slide and that was surely to protect the right ankle. But if he learned one thing from today’s match, it was the effectiveness of using his offensive game.
This may be clay, but the men who are winning in Paris are the attackers, much as Murray almost did against Djokovic in Rome.
Two days’ rest will, judging from today’s performance, be enough to ensure Murray comes back fighting fit and in fighting spirit to face his first seed of the tournament, Viktor Troicki. He has -even more encouragingly -lost a total of just 16 games to this particular Serb in their only three previous meetings.