Unlike England’s cricket team Andy Murray has never lost to an Australian. At no point in his untroubled win over Nick Kyrgios here on Saturday did he look like interrupting a sequence of wins that stretched back over 11 matches and six different antipodean opponents. Perhaps Trevor Bayliss should give him a call.
Unusually for a player whose instincts lean heavily towards caution Murray said he has never been in better shape to win the French Open, although he knows he needs to play better in the second week than he has done in the first.
He beat the Argentinian Facundo Argüello without fuss, dropped a set against the bullish João Sousa and, despite serving below his best, tamed a wounded Kyrgios 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 over two hours in the third round on Court Suzanne Lenglen on Saturday.
“Definitely coming into the tournament is the best I have played on clay; the results would suggest that,” he said, reflecting on the first clay titles of his career, in Munich and Madrid, where he beat Rafael Nadal in the final.
“I’d never won a clay court tournament, never been to the final or had many wins against any of the top guys on the clay. In Madrid I managed to do that against Kei [Nishikori], Milos [Raonic] and Rafa. I played some very good matches there.
“Winning the tournament and changing my schedule helped a lot. I never played any of the smaller events on the tour on clay before. I feel that was a good decision from me and my team. Also physically I gave myself time to get used to the surface, one I struggled on with my back for a few years, and gave myself a proper training period, built it up slowly and made a few changes to the way that I prepared for this clay-court season.”
However, when told that 68% of ITV viewers thought he was going to win the title, Murray treated it with all the credulity afforded to the exit polls at the general election. “That seems very high when you’ve still got Rafa, Roger and Novak in the tournament but I’ll give it my best shot. I haven’t played as well so far as I did in Madrid. I’ll need to get better if I want to go further.”
Murray has reason to feel good about his game, having won all 13 of his matches on clay this season. He has not only improved his movement but, for the first time according to his coach, Amélie Mauresmo, he has been able to train with the intensity that got him to win two majors and an Olympic gold medal.
Kyrgios, nursing a sore elbow and wrist that blew up on him in the second set, said: “I’ve got a lot of respect for Andy. He’s only done good things for me and helped me out. I want all the best for him. I think he can do well this week. He’s definitely got the game. He plays great on clay. He’s been having a great season.”
Murray thought he might be playing Belgium’s David Goffin in the fourth round but quickly readjusted his sights to Jérémy Chardy, who beat the 17th seed with apparent ease 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 on Saturday. The 28-year-old Frenchman, ranked 45 in the world, beat Murray on the hard court of Cincinnati three years ago but has lost their other five encounters. The most recent of those was on clay in Rome a couple of weeks ago, before Murray withdrew from the tournament to rest before Roland Garros after a tiring run on the surface he says is his least favourite – but obviously no longer the pit of doom that some people imagine.
Murray said he knew something was wrong with Kyrgios early in the match. “At the beginning he was serving big, over 200km an hour, and then started slowing down to 170, 180, and not really going for aces [he struck two, with seven double faults]. He normally serves a bunch of aces. He has a very quick motion and a very accurate serve. Today it was really after his last service game of the first set where he started to slow the serve down.”
Kyrgios, one of the Tour’s most exciting prospects, shouted, “I hate this place” after blasting one of 17 forehand mis-hits into the stands, then took a medical timeout before the third set but his power had all but evaporated. “I have done so much [to fix the injuries] and it’s pretty heartbreaking going out there and something like that holding you back.
“I am entered in a couple of tournaments and I will do everything I can to get ready for Wimbledon. That’s my best chance to win a grand slam.”
Even in defeat Kyrgios talks like a winner.
The International Tennis Federeration on Saturday rejected the application of Aljaz Bedene to play Davis Cup for Great Britain, although he has leave to appeal. Bedene, 25, was born in Slovenia, has lived in the UK for five years and was granted a British passport in March. He is ranked 75th in the world, second only to the world No3, Andy Murray, in Britain, and at the French Open this week lost in four sets in the first round to Dominic Thiem.
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