British success at Roland Garros can be as rare as the steaks in some of the nearby restaurants but les rosbifs were celebrating three fine victories at the French Open here on Monday night.
If Andy Murray’s 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 dismissal of Argentina’s Facundo Arguello was no less than would have been expected of the world No 3, Kyle Edmund and Heather Watson both came through potentially tricky challenges in fine style.
Edmund, aged 20, won his first match at a Grand Slam tournament when he beat France’s Stéphane Robert 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 in a late-night marathon, while Watson beat Mathilde Johansson, who also represents France 6-4, 7-5. Even the two Britons who lost put up a decent fight, Aljaz Bedene losing 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 to Dominic Thiem, of Austria, in his first Grand Slam match since being granted a British passport and Jo Konta suffering a 7-6, 4-6, 6-2 defeat by Czech Denisa Allertova.
The evening was closing in when Edmund completed his victory at 9.21pm after nearly three hours. It was the last match on court and was watched by a large and noisy crowd on Court 7, which is in the shadow of Court Philippe Chatrier, the main stadium, where Murray had got his tournament off to a winning start. In the closing stages Murray himself joined the crowd, the Scot having taken a close interest in Edmund’s progress and regularly offering his support and advice.
The roars of the French supporters echoed around the grounds whenever Robert won a point, while Edmund’s winners were greeted by near silence. Edmund was cramping by the end but clung on to secure only his second victory at tour level.
“I’m really pleased,” he said afterwards. “It was my first five-setter and first five-set win. A lot of emotions were going on in the match, but I just tried to stay very level and calm.”
Robert, aged 35, is languishing at No 558 in the world rankings, having missed the second half of last year with a thigh injury, but he has plenty of experience, having played in the main draw at 15 Grand Slam tournaments.
Edmund was playing in only his fourth Grand Slam event, though this was the second in succession in which he had negotiated his place through the qualifying competition. The world No 121 has made excellent progress this year, having climbed 70 places since the start of January.
When Robert won five of the first six games it seemed that Edmund might struggle again to make his Grand Slam breakthrough, but the Briton responded superbly to take the second and third sets.
Robert took the fourth, but Edmund quickly took control of the decider with a double break. Asked about Murray’s support, Edmund said: “He’s obviously just played his match and he’s gone through all his recovery stuff and he doesn’t have to come out and watch me, but he has. It just shows that he really cares.
“I’m just very fortunate someone like that is keen to help me. I will take as much help as I can get from him. He texted me after the match saying: ‘Really well done. I’m really pleased for you’.”
Edmund will play the Australian Nick Kyrgios in the second round. The winner of that match will then meet Murray in the third round if the Scot wins his match against the winner of today’s meeting between Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, the world No 53, and Portugal’s Joao Sousa, the world No 44.
Murray made a slow start against Arguello, though there was never much doubt about the eventual outcome. The Argentine lost in the final round of qualifying here and earned his place in the draw as a “lucky loser” thanks to some late withdrawals.
The 22-year-old has only ever won one tour-level match, though he is quick around the court and hit some big forehands.
In the first set Murray made 17 unforced errors as he struggled to cope with the chilly and windy conditions, but he played much better as the match progressed.
“That court in particular is extremely slow,” he said afterwards. “I have never felt it like that before. It was very low-bouncing, which is strange. It was very slow and heavy.”
If it was a good day for British tennis – and one which Murray welcomed – the Scot also put it into perspective when he was asked whether such results might make other countries sit up and take notice.
“I don’t think France or Spain or Argentina would be very impressed by that,” he said. “A lot of the other nations have multiple players going deep into the Grand Slams. Ultimately, that’s where you want to try to get to. Tennis in the UK is obviously a big sport and there’s a lot of money invested in it, so you want to try to get as much depth as possible.
“For us it’s great, but I don’t think the other countries are looking at it and saying, ‘I think it’s great you have two or three players in the second round of a Grand Slam’.”Reuse content