French Open 2015: Andy Murray heads to Kyrgios test, Djokovic to Kokkinakis

Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic were among the players to reach the third round of the French Open on Thursday

It appeared to be an honour of the highest order, the schedule handed down for Andy Murray on this Thursday at Roland Garros.

It was the day when the top half of the men’s draw would play their second matches, and protocol usually dictates that each of the top players will ply their trade on both Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen. Thus the second seed Roger Federer had played his two matches on each of the show courts, as had the top-ranked woman in the world, Serena Williams.

The two defending champions, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova, were accorded the courtesy of Chatrier for both their openers—and Sharapova will stay centre stage for match No3 as well—so the interesting decision in a packed top half of the men’s draw was how to schedule world No1 Novak Djokovic and No3 Murray.

And perhaps surprisingly, the prime spot went to the Briton. For there is no doubting Murray’s popularity in the French capital—witness the full kilt regalia donned by Fabrice Sontoro to conduct Murray’s post-match interview.

But the honoured No3 seed has a certain je ne sais quoi in his favour, too. This is the first French Open he has played since taking on the former French world No1, Amelie Mauresmo, as his coach.

That he has sung her praises at every opportunity—and there have been many and various questions through the last year about his rare choice of a female coach on the men’s tour—has only added the popularity of his choice. And the two have clearly gelled. What’s more, Murray’s tennis and confidence seem to have flourished.

As well as reaching the finals of the Australian Open and Miami Masters and the semis of Indian Wells this season, he arrived here with not just his first clay title but two of them back-to-back, in Munich and Madrid, including wins over Kei Nishikori and Rafael Nadal.

Which meant that, with his first-round win here, Murray was on an 11-match clay-winning streak. However he now had to face a man fresh from his own decent clay run to the final in Geneva, Joao Sousa. Not that Murray appeared to have too many problems taking control in the first set after breaking at the fifth attempt in the long opening game. He dropped just three points on serve in taking the opener, 6-2, in 41 minutes.

The second set would prove altogether tougher, as Sousa opened up his aggressive game and began to strike deep, strong balls down both wings. Having pushed Murray wide to retrieve, the Portuguese followed in to finish at the net.

It was crowd-pleasing stuff and the French fans got behind Sousa’s enthusiastic tennis. Murray stayed on a par with his opponent until he was given a time violation serving at 0-30 in the seventh game, and was then beaten by two bold net strikes from Sousa for the break.

But Murray loves a challenge, and he ground out a couple of long, probing baseline rallies to earn a break-back point. One more such rally and he had the break: He roared “Let’s go!”

However, Sousa was on a roll, and a perfect drop shot brought up another chance to break, and he chased in to smash away a winner onto the baseline to break for the set, 6-4.

The crowd loved it: two men engaged in fierce battle, each drawing better attack and defence from one other. Murray withstood huge pressure in the fourth game—a break point courtesy of an awkward net cord, and then a time-violation to dock a first serve at deuce. But he rode out the problems in style and roared himself on again: “C’mon!”

Now he upped his own level, hit 12 winners, and broke in the seventh game. Sousa held off another break with a huge forehand winner, but could not save the set, 6-4.

Each of the three sets thus far had taken a good 40 minutes of focused tennis. The fourth and last was a faster, more ruthless affair. Murray’s level went up a notch and the difference in their ranking and ability was exposed. He raced to a 4-0 lead and Sousa managed just one game before Murray broke for set and match, 6-1, after two and a half hours.

That makes 33 wins this year and 12 straight on clay for Murray, but he will have to work ever harder to maintain his run at Roland Garros. He has a tough draw, not least his next match against the power and flair of the 20-year-old Nick Kyrgios. The two men have met twice before, most recently in the quarters of the Australian Open, and Murray won handily, but there is no doubting the threat of the Australian who beat Federer in Madrid less than a month ago, and is rested after receiving a bye from an injured Kyle Edmund. He is at a career high, seeded in Paris at 29, and reached the final in Estoril.

Murray commented: “He’s 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 a few weeks ago on the clay. So he can cause a lot of players trouble. He’s an exciting guy to watch.”

Beyond Kyrgios, Murray could face John Isner, who today beat Jeremy Chardy in four sets. And the quarters may hold the former Roland Garros finalist, David Ferrer, who made very short work of Daniel Gimeno-Traver for the loss of just six games.

But of course it is back at the top of this half of the draw that the real trouble lies, with Nadal and Djokovic.

Both men, as if there was any doubt, had little trouble in progressing to the third round on their respective courts. Nadal may have anticipated more problems than he had against compatriot Nicolas Almagro. Three times before they had met here in the quarter-finals, so this was unseasonably early due to the unseeded Almagro undergoing foot surgery last year.

But he scored his only victory over Nadal in Barcelona in 2014, and all 12 of his titles have come on the red dirt. However, Nadal has looked increasingly confident and comfortable at the place he has dominated for a decade. That his win took two and a quarter hours speaks highly of the aggressive, shot-making tennis of Almagro, but Nadal only conceded eight games, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1, to take his extraordinary Paris record to 68-1.

Nadal next faces the unseeded Andrey Kuznetsov, in an eighth now devoid of other seeds. Tommy Robredo went down in five sets to teen star Borna Coric—and a point of interest is that Coric won his only match against Nadal in Basel last year, though Nadal was struggling with appendicitis at the time.

First for Coric, though, is another young player making ever more headlines for his aggressive, improving tennis. Jack Sock hit 67 winners past Pablo Carrena Busta, 6-7(2), 7-6(4), 6-1, 7-6(4), to reach the third round in Paris for the second straight year.

Meanwhile, across the site, Djokvoic was continuing his serene 2015 progress with a 1hr 46mins win over Gilles Muller, dropping just nine games. It takes the super Serb’s unbroken run to 24, a remarkable 37-2 in a year that has already claimed the Australian Open and every Masters—Indian Wells, Miami, Monte-Carlo and Rome—that he has played.

His next match, though, should be a thriller, one sure to feature back on Chatrier, against the exciting, shot-making teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis, who beat Bernard Tomic in five sets and 3hrs 22mins, hitting 71 winners in the process.

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