The umpires and players at the French Open are locked in a weird waltz – slow-slow, quick-quick slow – over the exasperating issue of time violations for tardy serving, and Andy Murray found himself at the centre of the debate on day five.
Twice on Thursday the French chair umpire Pascal Maria warned him for not serving within the prescribed 20 seconds during his win over João Sousa – once when wind gusted to interrupt him, later when Murray paused because he was distracted by replayed highlights on the big screen.
Rafael Nadal, a notoriously slow server, has already created a stir that won’t die by refusing to have Carlos Bernardes officiate in his matches after they clashed over a time violation in South America earlier this year, and Roger Federer made it plain this week he would not like to see that practice spread. Murray, it seems, is in the Federer camp on this one.
The Scot, who has fought hard to conquer his emotions over the years, lost rhythm and concentration the first time, dropping serve and going on to lose the second set but held his composure on the second occasion. Later, he was keen to give the umpire a pass – although he might have felt more belligerent had he not closed out the match 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in two and a half hours.
“I think most of the umpires have a pretty good understanding,” he said. “I know Rafa has had a few issues with Carlos but, for the most part, I think everyone gets on with it pretty well. I like the time rule. It’s there for a reason. Sometimes I play too slow, and that’s unintentional. But as a player you have no idea how long you’re taking between the points. The second one I got, genuinely I was up at the line in good time but they were showing the highlight from the point before, so I didn’t serve.
“I haven’t had loads of time violations but sometimes I have played too slow and the umpire’s job is to make the players play at the right speed. But I wasn’t annoyed at all. I made no issue of it on the court.
“At that period in the match obviously I was struggling. I served badly in that set, and I brought that pressure on myself. Then he started to play better tennis and made it difficult for me in that 30 to 40-minute period.
“It was very tough at the end of the second set through to the beginning and middle of the third. But, when I started serving and returning better, that helped me get out of trouble.”
Murray will almost certainly be back on Roland Garros’s main court for a hat-trick of appearances on Saturday against the exciting young Australian Nick Kyrgios, who had a walkover against the injured British player Kyle Edmund.
“He’s a very talented guy,” Murray said. “He likes the big stage. He’s had some good results at the slams [notably beating Nadal at Wimbledon last year]. Also away from the slams he 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, and he’s going to be around for a long time.”
Murray is now the only surviving Briton after Heather Watson was eliminated in the second round by the American Sloane Stephens in straight sets.
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