Perhaps officials in Paris should consider relocating Andy Murray's matches across the city from Stade Roland Garros to the Palais-Royal, home of the Comédie Française, the state theatre company. Twelve months after he reached the semi-finals of the French Open despite an ankle injury sustained early in the tournament, Murray was at the centre of more high drama here yesterday as he overcame a painful back problem to beat Finland's Jarkko Nieminen 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 and book his place in the third round.
When Murray called for the trainer after going 4-0 down in the first set his prospects looked bleak. The world No 4, who was given extensive treatment on court and sent for the trainer on two more occasions, looked barely capable of walking, let alone running. When he lost the first set his entourage wanted him to throw in the towel.
Murray, nevertheless, is nothing if not a fighter and as the back spasms started to subside he fought his way back from 2-4 down in the second set. Thereafter he looked much more like his old self, while Nieminen, apparently disoriented by his opponent's remarkable recovery, could hardly put a ball in court. Murray won 16 of the last 19 games to seal victory in two hours and 27 minutes. "I just couldn't believe I had won," he said.
The Scot has been troubled by a sporadic back problem for the last six months, but insisted afterwards that this was a one-off and that he had been advised he would not cause any further damage by playing. He had woken up unable to put any weight on his left leg, recovered sufficiently to practise but said his back started to feel "really, really sore" after the third game.
Murray has been criticised in the past for making a meal of his physical problems and Virginia Wade, commentating on Eurosport, said he had been "a drama queen" against Nieminen and was "not really acting in an adult way".
When told of the former Wimbledon champion's comments, Murray said: "To me that's quite disappointing, to be honest. I know how I felt on the court. I know how bad it was. And then you have people like that who always have to come out and say something controversial, something like that, when really they should be supportive, or maybe ask me a question first.
"I've known her since I was a really young kid. She used to do coaching stuff with my mum since I was a really young child, so to me that's quite disappointing. She has no idea what I was feeling on the court. She doesn't know what was happening 20 minutes before I went out on to the court, what I was feeling, what I was doing."
He added: "I don't really see what the point would be in play-acting, going down 6-1, 4-2. I've played him numerous times, have never had major problems playing against him before, so I don't really see what the point would be in going on and putting yourself in a position where you're about to lose, and stop the match, and then somehow manage to turn it around."
At any Grand Slam tournament the top players want to get the job done as quickly as possible in order to conserve energy for the tougher challenges ahead and any suggestion that Murray was play-acting is surely wide of the mark. There have been occasions in the past when he has erred by making opponents aware of his physical difficulties with his grimacing and negative body language, but here there could be no disguising that his problems very real.
Early on, Murray was barely serving at half-speed. Nevertheless, his talent is such that he was still striking winners even when hardly able to move. His competitive spirit is evident in the fact that he has only ever retired in one match in his career, when he suffered a serious wrist injury five years ago.
In the third round tomorrow Murray will face a 24-year-old Colombian, Santiago Giraldo, who beat Bernard Tomic 6-4, 6-1, 6-3. Giraldo took just three games off Murray on their only previous meeting, in Barcelona last month, but the world No 50 is an experienced clay-court player. Since the Australian Open he has played 27 of his 32 matches on clay.
"I'm going to try and carry on regardless, whether it's a bit more sore tomorrow or in two days' time," Murray said. "I have no idea what will happen, but if it's something like a spasm, it's not like you're doing major damage. It's just a really, really tight muscle."
Giraldo said: "I think I can give Andy a match on any surface, but especially on clay. I'm playing well and feeling very good, so if he has problems it will be tough for him."
While Murray struggled, Rafael Nadal was in superb form against Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin. The Spaniard, who is aiming to take the title here for the seventh time in eight years, won 6-2, 6-2, 6-0. "I improved during the third set," he said. "This is when I had the upper hand. I played my best tennis. I made almost no mistakes."
Li Na, the women's champion, brushed aside France's Stéphanie Foretz-Gacon 6-0, 6-2, while Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki were also impressive. Kvitova beat Urszula Radwanska 6-1, 6-3 and Wozniacki overcame Jarmila Gajdosova 6-1, 6-4.
French Open results
Men's Singles second round F Fognini (It) bt (28) V Troicki (Serb) 6-2 3-6 4-6 6-3 8-6; (5) J-W Tsonga (Fr) bt C Stebe (Ger) 6-2 4-6 6-2 6-1; D Goffin (Bel) bt A Clement (Fr) 3-6 7-6 0-6 6-2 6-1; (6) D Ferrer (Sp) bt B Paire (Fr) 6-3 6-3 6-2; (27) M Youzhny (Rus) bt R Haase (Neth) 6-3 7-6 6-4; S Giraldo (Col) bt (25) B Tomic (Aus) 6-4 6-1 6-3; (4) A Murray (GB) bt J Nieminen (Fin) 1-6 6-4 6-1 6-2; (29) J Benneteau (Fr) bt D Tursunov (Rus) 6-4 6-4 6-4; (12) N Almagro (Sp) bt M Baghdatis (Cyp) 6-4 6-3 7-5; (13) J Monaco (Arg) bt L Rosol (Cz Rep) 7-6 6-0 7-6; (19) M Raonic (Can) bt J Levine (US) 6-4 7-5 6-2; E Schwank (Arg) bt (32) F Mayer (Ger) 2-6 6-3 6-4 7-6; (2) R Nadal (Sp) bt D Istomin (Uzb) 6-2 6-2 6-0.
Women's Singles second round (10) A Kerber (Ger) bt O Govortsova (Bela) 6-3 6-2; (7) N Li (Chin) bt S Foretz Gacon (Fr) 6-0 6-2; C Suarez-Navarro (Sp) bt S Karatantcheva (Kaz) 4-6 6-4 6-1; (14) F Schiavone (It) bt T Pironkova (Bul) 2-6 6-3 6-1; V Lepchenko (US) bt (19) J Jankovic (Serb) 7-6 4-6 6-4; N Bratchikova (Rus) bt C Feuerstein (Fr) 3-6 6-3 7-5; (4) P Kvitova (Cz Rep) bt U Radwanska (Pol) 6-1 6-3; (23) K Kanepi (Est) bt I Begu (Rom) 6-4 6-1; (9) C Wozniacki (Den) bt J Gajdosova (Aus) 6-1 6-4; K Zakopalova (Cz Rep) bt (16) M Kirilenko (Rus) 6-4 3-6 6-3; (22) A Pavlyuchenkova (Rus) bt M Czink (Hun) 4-6 6-3 6-3.Reuse content