If British tennis is heading ever so cautiously in the right direction, the pilot and guiding light for the foreseeable future remains the man who four years ago got lost on the Paris Métro en route to dinner with his mother.
But Andy Murray might soon have for company young Kyle Edmund who late on Monday evening joined him in the second round with a rousing five-set win over the experienced Stéphane Robert.
The vanquished Frenchman even reckoned Edmund might be better on clay than his world No3 compatriot, extravagant praise that will raise a few eyebrows.
“He’s a very strong player, mentally strong,” Robert said. “He looks very physically comfortable on clay. It’s strange for a British player. Maybe he’s the best guy on clay, I don’t know, because he’s playing with spin on the forehand. It’s not typical for a British player. For example, Murray is playing flat from both sides. It looks like he likes to play on clay.”
Murray would seem to have found his compass here since the bizarre evening when the capital’s underground system bamboozled him, and his strong start – subduing then taming the wild-swinging Argentinian Facundo Argüello in an hour and 45 minutes – was the sort of performance to lift the hopes of his compatriots left in the tournament, Edmund and Heather Watson.
Murray even went out after his own match to support Edmund in the final set of his 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 victory that lasted just under three hours.
“He’s obviously just played his match, and he’s gone through all his recovery stuff and he doesn’t have to come out and watch me, but he has,” Edmund said later. “It just shows that he really cares. I’m very fortunate someone like that is, you know, keen to help me.”
Two others fell – Johanna Konta to the Czech Denisa Allertova after throwing away the first set in a marathon tie-break, and the newly qualified former Slovenian Aljaz Bedene after a high-class fight with the talented young Austrian Dominic Thiem over three hours and 22 minutes, one of the longest matches of the day.
Murray, meanwhile, went some way to confirming with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 win, admittedly against a player with nothing to lose on his major debut on a main court, that the tennis which brought him 10 wins on the spin and two titles leading up to Roland Garros represents strong evidence of a maturing clay game.
It was a view the loser happily endorsed. “I played very well the first two sets but, in the third set, Murray behaved like a champion,” Argüello said. “He has big chances to go on and win the tournament. I think any of the big players can win it but I think he has improved a lot on clay.”
But Murray cautioned against brief success fuelling unreasonable expectations for British tennis.
“The last few years there have been lots of doubles guys around, which is nice,” he said. “And the more players in the singles, the better. Winning a couple of rounds at a French Open for us is good. But I don’t think France or Spain or the Argentinians would look at it and be very impressed. A lot of the other nations have multiple players going deep into the grand slams. And ultimately that’s where you want to try to get to.
“Tennis in the UK is obviously a big sport, there’s a lot of money invested in it, so you want to try to get as much depth as possible. I saw a little bit of Bedene and Thiem’s match before I went on. Seemed like it was a pretty good match. It’s obviously good that Heather has won. I saw Jo lost a tough first set.”
Edmund, whose gentle demeanour disguises a strong mind, ignored the barrage of distractions that accompanied his return from a bathroom break to contest the fifth set and broke at the first time of asking, then held his nerve in the fading light against a backdrop of loud French interruptions at key moments.
Cramping up in his left leg, he reined in his serve and was relieved to see Robert’s final forehand drift long. It was one of the toughest and most convincing wins of his career. On Wednesday he has a much tougher test in the second round, against the rising Australian Nick Kyrgios, who looked outstanding in defeating Denis Istomin 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.
As for Murray, he will know by early afternoon if he is to play the Canadian Vasek Pospisil or Portugal’s erratic but talented João Sousa, who meet in the first match on Court No3 on Tuesday.
“I was nervous today, always the first rounds of majors are tough, and it was a bit windy,” Murray said after a match that hit more than a few highs and lows in difficult conditions before he prevailed, as expected.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010