French Open 2016: Seeded Andy Murray and Jo Konta lead British challenge in Paris

Andy Murray is seeded No2 at Roland Garros in Paris for the first time ahead of the second Grand Slam of the year

Arriving at Roland Garros with a best-ever clay season under his belt, Andy Murray is seeded No2 in Paris for the first time, and has put himself strongly into the conversation about who may win the second Grand Slam of the year.

For a man who, until last year, had never even reached a clay tournament final before, let alone won one, this has proved to be something of a transformation. Last summer, two years after persistent back problems forced him to miss Roland Garros and 18 months after undergoing back surgery, he won in Munich and the Madrid Masters, and he has gone from strength to strength.

Now comfortable with the sliding, twisting movement demanded by clay, he comes to Paris with a first Rome Masters title, a final run in Madrid, and a semi finish in Monte-Carlo. He has beaten Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic on the red stuff along the way, and as No2 seed this week, he picked up a small piece of luck come the draw: He cannot meet either of those two men until the final. Nadal, seeded No4 after world No3 Roger Federer pulled out of the tournament, was drawn in No1 Djokovic’s half.

Not that Murray’s half is without its problems. The defending champion, Stan Wawrinka, may await the Briton in the semis, and anyone who saw the Swiss man’s blistering performance against Djokovic in last year’s final will know just how dangerous ‘Stan the Man’ can be.

Before Wawrinka, Murray may cross paths with an arguably more dangerous player, No5 seed Kei Nishikori. The Japanese star followed a final run in Miami with the final on Barcelona’s clay’—losing to Nadal—and the semis in Madrid and Rome, losing both times to top seed Djokovic.

However, Murray opens against veteran qualifier Radek Stepanek, who recently took him to three sets in Madrid, has the non-clay specialist Ivo Karlovic as his first seed, and another tall, big-serving man in John Isner as his possible fourth-round seed.

Nishikori has Richard Gasquet and Nick Kyrgios as dangerous alternatives in his section but it is Murray who must count himself one of the most feared opponents in the draw.

Indeed Murray’s 29-3 record on clay since the start of last year puts him top of the win-loss index—a position that may surprise even him. As he said after winning Rome: “The last couple of years, clay has probably been my most successful surface, which I never expected to be the case—and now going to Roland Garros with a lot of confidence and really, really good preparation… So hopefully I can have a good run there.”

It is also worth remembering that Murray has already reached the semis of the French Open three times: a final run this year is certainly not out of the question, and having beaten both Djokovic and Nadal through the clay Masters swing, it may be even better.

Murray is joined in the men’s draw by two more Brits. Aljaz Bedene, ranked 66, also opens against a qualifier, Gerald Melzer, with No31 seed Federico Delbonis in the second round and Djokovic in the third.

Kyle Edmund, close to a career high at 84, reached the second round here last year, and like his compatriots he begins against a qualifier, Nikolaz Basilashvili with Isner or John Millman in the second round. On his way to a possible meeting with Murray in the fourth round, he could also encounter the unpredictable No19 seed, Benoit Paire.

Not so long ago, Heather Watson and Laura Robson vied for the top British ranking on the women’s tour: Watson rose to 38 and won three WTA titles—her most recent this January; Robson reached No27 in 2013 with a breakthrough Round 4 run at Wimbledon, before long-standing wrist injury and surgery dragged her off the tour and down the rankings.

Now, it is another Briton, the tall and powerful Johanna Konta, who has reached greater heights than both, and is seeded in a Grand Slam, at No20, for the first time at Roland Garros after a memorable semi-final run in Australia in January.

The rise followed a strong performance at the US Open last year via qualifying when still barely inside the top 100. She attributes much of her improvement to overcome her nerves with the help of a sports psychologist—and she even made headway on her least favourite surface, clay, with a third-round run in Rome last week.

Konta is not afraid of the big stage or big opponents: Venus Williams, Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza and Roberta Vinci have all lost to the Briton in the last eight months. She does, though, have a challenging draw, beginning with Julia Goerges, a former No15, now No60, but in the semis in Nurnberg this week.

Her first seed is last week’s Rome finalist Madison Keys, and the fourth round could hold No3 seed and Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, who won Stuttgart’s clay Premier last month.

Should Konta make it to the semis via the likes of No9 seed Venus Williams or No8 seed Timea Bacsinszky, she is likely to find defending champion Serena Williams in her path—or failing that, Indian Wells and Miami champion Victoria Azarenka.

As for the other British women, Robson, playing here with a protected ranking though not on her favourite surface, has drawn a tough opener against the athletic Andrea Petkovic, No28 seed and a semi-finalist in Paris in 2014—with Azarenka a possible in the third round.

Watson takes on her doubles partner, Nicole Gibbs, in her first match, with the 2009 French Open champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, the No13 seed, a possible second opponent, in a quarter headed by Vinci and Petra Kvitova.

The No79-ranked Naomi Broady, close to her career-best, is also in Watson’s quarter, and meets Coco Vandeweghe in the first round.

The British line-up

Andy Murray, No2 seed
R1 Qualifier Stepanek
R2 Qualifier Jordi Samper-Montana or wild card Mathias Bourgue
R3 First seed No27 Ivo Karlovic
R4 No15 Isner or No19 Paire
QF No5 Nishikori, No28 Alexandr Dolgopolov, No17 Kyrgios or No9 Gasquet are seeds
SF No3 Wawrinka, No16 Gilles Simon, No10 Marin Cilic and No8 Milos Raonic are possibles
Final: Nadal and Djokovic are top seeds

Kyle Edmund
R1 Qualifier Nikolaz Basilashvili
R2 No15 seed Isner
R3 No19 seed Paire

Aljaz Bedene
R1 Qualifier Gerald Melzer
R2 No31 seed Delbonis
R3 No1 Djokovic

Johanna Konta, No20 seed
R1 Goerges
R2 Monica Puig or Olga Govortsova
R3 First seed No15 Keys
R4 No3 Kerber or No29 Kasatkina
QF No9 Venus Williams, No23 Jelena Jankovic, No31 Monica Niculescu and No8 Timea Bacsinszky are seeds
SF Serena Williams and Azarenka are top seeds
Final: No2 Agnieszka Radwanska and No4 Muguruza are top seeds

Heather Watson
R1 Gibbs
R2 Kuznetsova or Yaroslava Shvedova
R3 No24 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Laura Robson
R1 No28 seed Petkovic
R2 Aleksandra Wozniak or Yulia Putintseva
R3 No5 seed Azarenka

Naomi Broady
R1 Vandeweghe
R2 No25 seed Irina-Camelia Begu or Bethanie Mattek Sands
R3 No7 seed Vinci

Schedule

Bottom half of men’s and women’s draw will be played Sunday/Monday.
Top half of both draws begin Monday, conclude Tuesday.
Edmund and Watson play Sunday, Murray and Broady play Monday.

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