Andy Murray fancies French Open chances after rising to clay challenge

‘Maybe hard court is becoming my worst surface as I’ve got older... things change’

Andy Murray is in confident mood ahead of the French Open. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Andy Murray is in confident mood ahead of the French Open. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

 

Clay was the surface that made Andy Murray ‘hate tennis’ but the Scot heads into the French Open knowing it might just offer his best hope of a third grand slam title.

Murray is the only player to have beaten both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the build-up to the tournament and goes in on an unbeaten streak of five matches after winning the title in Rome.

Until last year, the 29-year-old had never reached a final on clay but he has since accumulated three titles, two of them at Masters level.

That has led his former coach Brad Gilbert, among other pundits, to claim clay is now his best surface, and Murray said: “Right now it’s probably difficult to argue with that.

“For me, I think grass is my best surface. Maybe less players play well on grass than on clay, too, which maybe influences it a little bit.

“Maybe hard court is becoming my worst surface as I’ve got older, which at the beginning of my career was my best. Things change, your game evolves and adapts all of the time.”

It is all a far cry from three years ago, when playing on clay aggravated Murray’s troublesome back to such an extent that he missed Roland Garros.

In his column in Le Parisien, Murray said: “I could ignore the pain, but after two years of struggling and periods where life was really hard, I had lost the desire to play. I took more pleasure in training, I hated tennis in the sense that it was only suffering.”

In typical self-deprecating fashion, when asked why players like Djokovic and Nadal practise frequently with him but not each other, Murray said: “They normally beat me so maybe they’re a bit happier to practise with me.”

His head-to-head record against both men is certainly lopsided but Murray will take plenty of confidence from knowing he has won his most recent meeting with both.

He beat Nadal for the second straight year in Madrid and then in Rome he managed just his second win in his last 14 matches against Djokovic.

“I think it’s important,” said Murray. “Any time you get wins against the best players it’s big, not so much for them but more for me to have that belief and confidence when I go on court against them that I can win the match, and that I more or less know the right way to play against them on this surface.

“I’d never beaten Novak on clay, although we’d had some very close matches in the past. I managed to get over the line in Rome and then with Rafa, I’ve beaten him a couple of years in a row and had some good practices with him as well. I feel good coming in.”

The French Open is the only slam where Murray has never reached the final, although he got closer than ever last year with a five-set loss to Djokovic in the last four.

This year he is seeded second for the first time, meaning he cannot play Djokovic until the final, while Nadal is also in the other half of the draw.

Murray is likely to have to get past fifth seed Kei Nishikori and defending champion Stan Wawrinka to reach the final, but he knows he has a great chance of victory.

“Last year as well I think was a good chance,” he said.

“I don’t know if this is my best chance, it’s always difficult to say, but I’m coming in playing as well as I did last year if not better, I’m on the opposite side of the draw to Novak, so we’ll see what happens.”

What Murray could have done without on the eve of the tournament were negative headlines provoked by comments from his former coach Amelie Mauresmo.

The pair went their separate ways two weeks ago, a decision described as mutual, but Mauresmo has now revealed she ran out of patience with Murray’s on-court behaviour.

The Frenchwoman told sports newspaper L’Equipe: “Andy is complex. On the court, he can be the opposite of what he is in life. It can be confusing. I was there to help. I had the feeling I could not get things done.”

Murray, who did his pre-tournament media on Friday, is bound to be asked about Mauresmo’s comments following his first-round match.

That opener comes against Radek Stepanek on Monday, but two of the seven British players in the singles draw are in action on Sunday.

Kyle Edmund meets qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili while Heather Watson takes on her American doubles partner Nicole Gibbs.

Edmund, who reached the second round here last year, had to withdraw from a match in Nice earlier this week after hurting his ankle in a heavy fall.

He said: “There’s still a little bit there, it’s not pain free, but it’s absolutely fine to play.”

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