Andy Murray struggles to dispatch second round opponent at French Open

World No. 1 now faces tricky Argentine Juan Martín del Potro in third round

Britain's Andy Murray thumbs up as he plays Slovakia's Martin Klizan during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, Thursday, June 1, 2017 in Paris. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Britain's Andy Murray thumbs up as he plays Slovakia's Martin Klizan during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, Thursday, June 1, 2017 in Paris. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

 

If Andy Murray is to reach the French Open final for the second year in a row, confounding critics who say he will not make it out of the first week, he will have to shrug off the lethargy that plagued the start of his campaign last year and has struck again this week.

Last year he survived two five-setters early on. This year, as world No. 1, his two opening matches have taken him to four sets against low-ranked rivals when he might have got the job done with quick, cleaner victories.

In the third round against Juan Martín del Potro he will not be allowed the luxury of easing himself into the fight the way he could against the world No. 85, Andrey Kuznetsov, in the first round and the world No. 50, Martin Klizan, on Thursday, when he won 6-7, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 on Court Suzanne Lenglen in three hours and 34 minutes.

For an hour against Klizan, Murray’s gears refused to mesh. For the next hour or so he was on top, then the match took a sharp swerve at the start of the fourth for the tensest of finishes.

Having struggled to stay in touch with the Scot, the rangy left-hander was dramatically revived after receiving treatment for his serving shoulder. He was 3-0 up in the fourth before Murray had even mouthed his loud complaint about the interruption, railing at his box and the umpire, to little effect on either front. He was on his own here and needed to get his composure back against an opponent who had tried all his tricks against the French qualifier Laurent Lokoli on Tuesday – and got away with them. As Klizan started pounding down his serve at 196kph to go 4-1 up, his shoulder looked just fine.

Murray, who also threatened to sit down if the umpire did not have the spidercam stilled above his serving position, explained later: “I was getting frustrated on the court – something that I have always battled with. That’s just how I am. I feel like I have improved it from where I was in the middle of my career. Some times I think for my team it’s difficult to know exactly how I’m feeling or what it is that I need when I’m on the court.”

They were not often left in doubt on Thursday. Did he think he would beat Del Potro. “Absolutely,” he said.

Del Potro, meanwhile, was detained for only an hour and a half on Court 2 before the Spaniard Nicolás Almagro retired with an injury to his left knee. The Argentinian, who lost to Murray in the Olympic final last year but beat him in the Davis Cup semi-final, was a set apiece at 6-3, 3-6 and 1-1 in the third when Almagro withdrew.

Del Potro, seeded number 29, said later: “It could be another great battle – if I feel good. Andy is one of the favourites to win this tournament. Now I know his game a lot, but I need to be in good shape and physically be stronger if we play a long match, long rallies.”

Murray said: “Juan Martín, in my opinion, plays better than his ranking. He’s come back from injury and has had a lot of tough draws this year. He’s playing well. I’m sure it’ll be a great atmosphere.”

Klizan arrived in Paris complaining of pain in his left calf and said he had reluctantly withdrawn from three lead-up tournaments at the last minute. In the first round against Lokoli he collapsed dramatically in the fourth set before recovering to take the fifth. The furious Frenchman accused him of feigning injury and refused to shake his hand.

Murray started poorly again while Klizan went for his shots from the first ball. In the seventh game, a lady in pink arrived as Klizan raised his racket to serve. He paused. To whistles and boos, she eased slowly out of his eyeline, ascending the stairs with all the hauteur of a diva and disappeared from view.

The Slovak, chortling and chuntering, held. But errors began to feed into his ground strokes, his temper quickened and the shape of his game began to unravel. He was there for the taking.

Klizan did not look a good bet to finish the fight – but he took the tie-break. Murray was livid with himself, rightly so.

Then he hit a pleasing tempo. From 1-2 down he won five games in a row to take him into the third looking capable of another whirlwind finish, drilling the ball deep and wide, and all looked set for a quick denouement. By the time they reached the end of the fourth on level terms, however, nerves jangled like loose change.

They traded breaks and, two points away from a fifth set, Murray hit a double fault when a door slammed off-court. A baby cried as he served to hold for 5-5, and he smiled. When they got to the second tie-break, Murray, who had botched a few good chances earlier, finally drove the dagger home – probably two hours later than he would have liked.

“Sometimes you think you’ve hit a good shot and he comes up with an unbelievable winner,” he said of Klizan. “When he’s controlling with his forehand it’s very difficult. I certainly didn’t want a fifth set but in the end there were some entertaining points, some great shots.” Guardian service

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