Andy Murray finds form at right time to beat Del Potro
World number one moves past Juan Martin del Potro into French Open fourth round
Andy Murray during his third round match against Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina on day seven of the 2017 French Open at Roland Garros. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images
The world number one has been searching for top form all season and finally found something close to it on a cool, grey day at Roland Garros.
Murray saved four set points to win a titanic opener lasting 84 minutes and was in control thereafter to win 7-6 (10/8) 7-5 6-0.
The one significant asterisk was the fitness of Del Potro, who went into the match with a groin injury and struggled more and more as it progressed.
But Murray will have reason to feel he can be a factor at the end of this tournament after this performance, with the 30-year-old also much calmer on court.
Murray said: “I expected a very tough match. The first set was very, very important. Whoever won that set had momentum. It was very slow and heavy conditions and to be coming back was difficult.
“I thought I played some good tennis towards the end. Each day I’m feeling a little bit better and hopefully I can keep it going.”
This was a brutal third-round draw. Although Murray was keen to talk up his performance in his second-round win over Martin Klizan, he surely knew he would have to significantly raise his level to stand a chance against Del Potro.
Murray and Del Potro met in two classic encounters last year. The Scot got the better of his rival to win Olympic gold before losing a five-hour marathon in the Davis Cup semi-finals.
Del Potro is still working his way back to his rightful ranking after the wrist problems that almost ended his career, and the big question was how he would pull up physically.
The Argentinian looked in trouble on Thursday before opponent Nicolas Almagro tearfully retired having aggravated a knee problem.
Del Potro’s sporting reaction to an opponent in distress may have gone some way to explaining why the crowd were so much behind the Argentinian here, even cheering Murray double faults.
Del Potro’s mighty forehand has survived his wrist troubles and he used it to great effect to open up a 5-3 lead in the first set.
But Murray looked much more like his old self, using the drop shot particularly well and finding the sort of penetration through the court that has been such an issue in 2017.
He saved a set point at 4-5 and then another in a memorable 10th game, missing a sitter forehand before finally breaking back.
The tie-break was a mini-match in itself, with Murray opening up a 6-4 lead, missing both set points then facing another after Del Potro pulled off a miracle forehand winner off a Murray pass.
But a double fault from the Argentinian made it 7-7 and it was Murray who took his third set point when Del Potro’s forehand landed just wide.
He called for umpire Carlos Bernardes to check and stood for a good minute leaning on the net with head in hands after Bernardes admitted he could not see the mark and stuck with the line judge’s call.
HawkEye – used by TV companies but not the tournament – showed that the officials were right, and Del Potro’s angst surely mostly stemmed from the knowledge that with that set went his chances.
Murray broke immediately at the start of the second set but missed the chance to lead 3-0 and Del Potro, who called the doctor on court for some painkillers, stalled the Scot’s progress by recovering to 5-5.
Del Potro’s refusal to go away was a defining feature of their Olympic final, but this time the Argentinian’s resistance proved to be fleeting.
Murray broke serve again immediately and, with Del Potro flagging, raced through the fourth set to set up a last-16 clash against either John Isner or young Russian Karen Khachanov.
World number three Stan Wawrinka cruised into the fourth round against an out-of-sorts Fabio Fognini, winning 7-6(2) 6-0 6-2 as the Italian’s game fell apart after a strong first set.
The 2015 champion in Paris has yet to drop a set in the 2017 tournament, but this time he came close to conceding the first, which the unpredictable Italian failed to serve out before losing in a one-sided tiebreak.
Fognini, seeded 28, had won two of his three matches against top-five opponents this year, beating then fourth-ranked Kei Nishikori in Miami and number one Murray in Rome.
But on a murky Court Suzanne Lenglen where the weather matched his own darkening mood, the Italian lost the second set without taking a game, punctuating wild forehands with a clutch of double faults before getting treatment on his left knee.
At 5-2 down in the third set, Fognini saved two match points before the 32-year-old Swiss fired down an unreturnable serve on the third.
“It was a very good first set and I was a bit hesitant, but after that I relaxed,” Wawrinka said courtside.
“I am playing very well at the moment but we all know how that can go in a Grand Slam . . . Each game gets more difficult.”
Wawrinka will play the winner of the all-French clash between Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet in the fourth round. Seventh seed Marin Cilic established himself as a contender for the title after sweeping past Feliciano Lopez 6-1 6-3 6-3 to reach the last 16 without dropping a set.
The 2014 US Open winner, who warmed up for the year’s second Grand Slam by capturing his first claycourt title in five years in Istanbul last month, delivered a near-perfect performance to equal his best-ever showing in Paris.
He whipped 31 winners past the helpless Spaniard, who at 35 was the oldest player left in the draw and whose big serve lost some of its edge due to humid and cloudy conditions.
“My return was working extremely well. I am very pleased with that,” said Cilic, who reached 100 Tour-level victories on clay. “The heavier conditions favoured me a bit . . . because he has a huge serve.”
Left-hander Lopez, who twice needed treatment for a sore neck, was broken seven times as Cilic attacked his serve at every opportunity and kept the Spaniard pinned to the baseline.
The 28-year-old Croatian notched his first win on clay over his opponent when he fired his eighth ace past him to set up a round of 16 clash with either Britain’s Kyle Edmund or Kevin Anderson of South Africa.
“To finish matches as quickly as possible is never easy. I am extremely satisfied, especially with how I have been playing the last couple of months,” Cilic said. “This week I played great and I hope to continue.”