If this French Open was the football World Cup (providing such a concept is not rendered beyond parody after recent events), Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal would be in the group from hell.
However, until they collide, all is going well enough for them, while Roger Federer, over in the group of serenity, is quietly doing his thing as well.
On day five, there was little to disturb the tennis universe in the men’s draw, but interesting comparisons to be made as the favourites came through contrasting tests using their particular gifts.
Murray will be happy with the result, a little disappointed with a mid-match dip, and encouraged that he could finish so emphatically to beat the eye- blazingly aggressive João Sousa 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in just over two and a half hours in his second consecutive appearance on Court Philippe Chatrier (normally Nadal’s unofficial pied-à-terre).
On the main court a little earlier, Nadal won his 68th match at Roland Garros, against a single, infamous loss, and is giving his critics something to think about after some low-key efforts on clay this summer.
After easing himself into the tournament he owns with a three-set win over the French teenager Quentin Halys on Tuesday, Nadal went through the gears to dismiss fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro for the 13th time in 14 matches on Thursday, this time 6-4, 6-3, 6-1.
Nadal now seemingly has the easiest third-round challenge of the leading seeds, against the Russian world No 120 Andrey Kuznetsov, who beat the 34-year-old Austrian Jürgen Melzer, a former world No 8, 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (7-0), 7-5.
However, Djokovic is still the tournament favourite. Although the world No 1 had an injury time-out for attention to his lower back and groin on Court Suzanne Lenglen, he eased to a comfortable 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 win over Luxembourg’s Gilles Müller.
Kokkinakis in third
The world No 1 has yet to be properly tested, but the young Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis – world No 84 and a sometime training partner of Murray’s – might ask him some hard questions in the third round, having come through a stern test against compatriot Bernard Tomic to win 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 8-6.
Murray next plays Kokkinakis’s more volatile countryman, Nick Kyrgios, who is waiting for him without stress after Kyle Edmund withdrew from their match overnight with a stomach muscle injury.
After Murray’s win, the French former player Fabrice Santoro conducted the courtside interview dressed in a kilt. “Looks good,” the real Scot said, nonplussed.
Murray added: “I realised towards the end of the second set and at the beginning of the third that he had raised his level. I just had to weather the storm, came up with some good serves on break points, and managed to turn it around.”
Murray was asked for the eleventeenth time about his French coach, Amélie Mauresmo, who had slipped away from court but was caught on the big screen checking her mobile phone while waiting in the player’s corridor.
“She’s helped me a lot. She was an excellent player, played with a lot of variety, something that I tried to do on court. She’s a very nice person, which is important. So far, so good.”
That might have been an involuntary reference to the status of their relationship, as Mauresmo does not know yet how long or if her commitment to the job will last after she gives birth in August.
Caroline Wozniacki, the former world No 1, joined the exodus of women's seeds at the French Open on Thursday when the Dane was bundled out in the second round by Germany's Julia Görges.
Wozniacki, seeded five, joined Simona Halep, the Romanian third seed who was last year’s runner-up, and the sixth seed, Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, after a 6-4, 7-6(4) defeat on a blustery Court Philippe Chatrier.
– (Guardian Service)