Court One at Roland Garros is known as "the bull ring", but to SantiagoGiraldo's disappointment his intended quarry here yesterday was more of a raging bull than a wounded one. Andy Murray was on the receiving end of some playful ribbing from his entourage after Virginia Wade called him "a drama queen" following his last match and if the teasing hurt it was Giraldo who felt the full force of the Scot's response.
Forty-eight hours after a back spasm left him serving at half-speed and barely able to run during the first set against Jarkko Nieminen, there was barely a grimace or a groan as Murray brushed Giraldo aside, winning 6-3 6-4 6-4 to earn a place in the fourth round against a familiar foe, Richard Gasquet, who beat Tommy Haas 6-7 6-3 6-0 6-0.
Murray won with some classic clay-court tennis, building a position of strength with the quality of his ground strokes before going for the kill. His ratio of winners to unforced errors – 31 to 20 – was exceptional for a match on clay.
What impressed most was his serve, especially given the fact that he had barely been able to push off his left foot in the early stages against Nieminen. Winning 85 per cent of points on his first serve and 74 per cent on his second, he even produced a perfect game early in the second set, winning it with four successive aces.
Murray gave credit to his physiotherapist, Andy Ireland, for getting him back into shape. "It was very hot today, so I warmed up very quickly," Murray said. "I felt better yesterday when I woke up than I had the day before, and then obviously had a very light practice yesterday. I woke up this morning again feeling better than I did, but that's because of the work my physio has done over the last 48 hours and all the recovery work that we've done between the last match and now."
Wade, commentating on Eurosport, had said on Thursday that Murray had been "a drama queen" against Nieminen and was "not really acting in an adult way". Murray said he had welcomed the chance to give his response. "When it's something I'm passionate about, I'm going to give my honest opinion on something – and I didn't think it was fair," he said.
To the regret of many, the "bull ring" is to be bulldozed as part of the redevelopment plans at Roland Garros. The circular stadium has front row seats from which you could almost reach out and touch the players. The noise of the crowd and the sounds of racket on ball echo around the court, creating an atmosphere like no other Grand Slam venue.
The conditions yesterday were almost perfect with only a gentle breeze to disturb the flags flying above the top tier of seats and the sun beating down from a blue sky. From the moment Murray opened proceedings with a 107mph ace you sensed the Scot was going to have a good back day. Two points later his service speed was up to 129mph.
Although Giraldo had never won a match in his five previous appearances here, the 24-year-old Colombian had proved with his straight-sets victory over Bernard Tomic in the previous round that he is not an opponent to be taken lightly, particularly on clay. Murray was made to work throughout but rose to the challenge in emphatic fashion.
For five games the match was tight, but in the sixth Murray upped the tempo to break serve and went on to take the first set in just 28 minutes. The world No 4 broke again midway through the second set and it was not until he served at 5-4 that Giraldo forced his only break point, which Murray saved when he forced the Colombian into a backhand error.
The pattern having been established, Murray made his third and final break at 3-3 in the third set and went on to secure victory after two hours and two minutes with a typically clean backhand cross-court winner.
The head-to-head record between Murray and Gasquet stands at 3-3 ahead of tomorrow's meeting, but Murray's three wins have all come in Grand Slam tournaments. Murray has twice come back from two sets down against the 25-year-old Frenchman, at Wimbledon in 2008 and here two years ago.
However, Gasquet won their most recent meeting, at last month's Rome Masters. "I wouldn't necessarily see myself as the favorite for the match," Murray said. "He's going to have the crowd behind him and I think this is his best surface, so it will be a tough match. But when I played him here last time, I hung in, fought really hard and just managed to turn the match around. I did the same thing at Wimbledon. When he plays well, he's a very, very tough guy to beat. He plays some unbelievable shots."
Spain's David Ferrer, a potential quarter-final opponent for Murray, was in superb form against Mikhail Youzhny, who won only six points in the first eight games before going down to a 6-0 6-2 6-2 defeat.
When the Russian finally won his first game after half an hour he started scraping a message on the clay with the toe of his right shoe. It just said "sorry".
Women's round-up: Venus braced for pain of missing out on Games
Venus Williams' place in the Olympic Games at Wimbledon this summer is in jeopardy. Each country can send only four singles players to the Games and Williams will have four Americans ranked above her by the cut-off date if Sloane Stephens reaches the last eight.
Williams, already behind her sister, Serena, and Christina McHale, is now below Varvara Lepchenko after she beat Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 champion here, 3-6 6-3 8-6. Stephens will also move ahead of Venus if she beats Sam Stosur in her fourth-round match today. Defending champion Li Na came from behind to beat McHale 3-6 6-2 6-1, Maria Sharapova crushed China's Peng Shuai 6-2 6-1 and Petra Kvitova beat Russia's Nina Bratchikova 6-2 4-6 6-1.
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