French Open 2015: Murray and Djokovic defuse young guns Kyrgios and Kokkinakis

Andy Murray beats Nick Kyrgios as Novak Djokovic disposes of Thanasi Kokkinakis to reach the fourth round in Paris

With every respect to nine-time champion Rafael Nadal’s unseeded third-round opponent, the 120-ranked Andrey Kuznetsov, there were few at Roland Garros on this sunny, blustery Saturday who thought he was likely to upset the Spaniard’s progress.

But when it came to the two exciting young Australians, the 20-year-old No29 seed Nick Kyrgios and the 19-year-old No84 Thanasi Kokkinakis, it was a different story.

They took on, respectively, No3 seed Andy Murray and the world No1 Novak Djokovic, and while clearly the two Grand Slam champions were favoured to advance, the two young Aussies, both tall, rangy, athletic players with big personalities to match had been catching the eye of all the top men for some time.

The younger Kokkinakis has, indeed, become mates with Murray—the two have joked about each other on Twitter and in press—and he has trained with Federer. But the slightly older compatriot Kyrgios had already begun to make some breakthroughs, starting with a startling run to the quarters of Wimbledon last year—upsetting Richard Gasquet and Rafael Nadal along the way—and then making the quarters at the Australian Open.

Kyrgios also reached his first final in Estoril and, to cap his preparation for Roland Garros, he beat Federer in their first meeting in Madrid, where he won the third of three tie-breaks, 14-12. Now he was into the third round here for the first time and hoping to claim a third of the ‘big four’, though he had failed to win a set from Murray in the previous two meetings.

Murray knew he had fight on his hands: “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 beat Roger a few weeks ago on the clay. So, yeah, I mean, he can cause a lot of players trouble.”

But then Murray has been enjoying one of his best ever clay seasons, winning back-to-back titles in Munich and Madrid—beating Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Nadal on the bounce. So he arrived at this match with a 12-0 clay run and 33-5 for the year. It is also worth noting that, though Roland Garros has not been Murray’s happiest Grand Slam hunting ground, he has reached the quarter-finals in four of his last five appearances—he pulled out in 2013 with back injury—and the semis twice, including last year.

What’s more, Kyrgios had not been a stranger to injury: He carried a back problem after his Melbourne run and retired in Nice a fortnight ago with elbow injury. He may, then, have been grateful for the walkover he received from Kyle Edmund in the second round, and certainly showed no signs of physical problems when he arrived on court, dressed in assorted dayglo colours, nodding along to his head-phone soundtrack, cap reversed at a jaunty angle. For Kyrgios is a breath of fresh air—young, extrovert, and a showman from a similar mould to Gael Monfils. He can produce outrageous winners from the back and front of the court, and will then turn to the crowd for their approval.

And confidence is not a commodity he ever seems to lack.

“I definitely I think I can win. I’ve got the game. I’m feeling a lot fitter than I was as well. So if I play the right game style, I definitely think I can.”

That confidence was on full show in the first game, as was the tactical skill and deft variety of Murray. First point: a drop shot winner from the Briton; second shot, a forehand winner from Kyrgios, followed by an ace and a winning serve. Next came a double fault, then another drop-shot winner from Murray, but Kyrgios seized the game with one more ace and a serve-and-forehand finish.

Murray continued to mix things up, but Kyrgios was beginning to read the drop shot, and a slick backhand winner showed what a danger he could be from all parts of the court. Murray had to fend off deuce, and it took nine minutes for the score to reach 1-1.

Then they exchanged breaks, as first one and then the other hits winners and forced errors. By mid set, the crowd had seen every shot in the book, but Kyrgios had one more up his sleeve: a tweener into a lob winner that even the super-fast Murray could not track down. The Australian raised his hands aloft to take the applause.

It is easy to become distracted by such varied and effective shot-making, and Murray certainly was distracted, by noise and his own errors, though in truth there were few unforced errors alongside his name. And despite that spectacular point from Kyrgios, Murray produced a great backhand pass to earn a break in the seventh, and he served it out, 6-4. He had made just five errors to 13 from the over-enthusiastic hitting of Kyrgios, and had made more winners too.

Both began the second set muttering to themselves, but while Kyrgios became increasingly distracted by calls, errors and a problematic arm, Murray used his irritations to focus and improve. It became ruthless, as he sliced low to draw errors, and ran the Australian ragged with some metronomic baseline plays, and broke his rhythm with drops and lobs. He got the break in the fifth game and fought off three break points in the next, holding with an ace. One more break and he was able to serve out the set, 6-2.

Still he had made only 11 errors to 24 winners, and by now, his opponent had heavy strapping on his right arm. It looked as though Kyrgios might revive when he took a 2-0 lead in the third, but Murray levelled after making a glorious cross-court pass, and broke again in the seventh game. Kyrgios fought off the first two match points but could not hold off a third and Murray closing things out, 6-3.

Murray has put a lot of his success down to a new approach in his preparation ahead of the clay season: “I never played any of the smaller events on the tour, on clay, and getting my first win on clay helped, for sure. I feel that that was a good decision from me and my team. And then physically, as well, I gave myself time to get used to the surface, a surface I struggled with my back for a few years… gave myself a proper training period, built it up slowly, and made a few changes to the way that I prepared for this clay season.”

Murray next plays Jeremy Chardy, who be beat convincingly in Rome before withdrawing from fatigue. Chardy can play an aggressive brand of tennis: He beat Federer in Rome last year, and overcame the considerable clay ability of Goffin in straight sets here. But Murray will no doubt again attempt to undermine the Frenchman’s game as he did that of Kyrgios.

As expected, Djokovic, who is looking for his first Roland Garros title and arrived in Paris on a 24-match winning streak with one Grand Slam and four Masters titles to his name, was in no mood for the young Kokkinakis to steal his thunder ahead of the second week.

The Australian acquitted himself well, taking the top seed to an hour and 50 minutes and a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 scoreline, but the imperious Djokovic made 34 winners to only 12 errors. He has yet to lose a set as he awaits either Richard Gasquet or Kevin Anderson in the next round.

Nadal would play for his place in the fourth round later in the day, but has no remaining seeds between him and a possible repeat of last year’s final here against Djokovic. Come week two, that could be like Christmas come early in Paris.

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