Murray beats the wind to be last Briton standing
Friday 27 May 2011
The weather gods clearly realised that it was Britain's big day here at the French Open yesterday. After four days of almost unbroken sunshine and rising temperatures, dark clouds scudded across the skies, a sharp wind swirled around the courts and the temperature plummeted.
The weather might have been familiar to Andy Murray, Elena Baltacha and Heather Watson, the first trio of Britons to reach the second round here for 27 years, but the conditions could hardly have been more testing. Murray predicted a day of shocks and was grateful not to feature in one, beating Italy's Simone Bolelli 7-6, 6-4, 7-5. His two compatriots did not fare as well, Baltacha losing 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 to Vania King, of the United States, while Heather Watson was beaten 6-1, 6-3 by Estonia's Kaia Kanepi.
With an unpredictable wind sweeping through Court Philippe-Chatrier, there were times when Murray looked as confused as he had apparently been two days earlier, when he got lost while taking the Paris metro to join members of his family for dinner.
In the first set in particular Murray had trouble holding on to his serve. The Scot saved two break points in the opening game, was then broken twice in a row and trailed 5-3. Bolelli, a better player than his world ranking at No 126 would suggest, adapted more quickly to the conditions but failed to serve out for the set, which Murray took by winning the tie-break 7-3.
The next two sets followed a similarly erratic pattern. Bolelli again led 5-3 in the third set, only for Murray to win the following four games and the match. He next plays the world No 95, Germany's Michael Berrer, who beat Arnaud Clément in four sets.
"The toughest thing for tennis players is when the wind isn't consistent," Murray said after his win. "It was swirling the whole time. Sometimes you'd throw the ball up to serve and you'd feel like the wind was blowing in towards you. Then when you threw the ball up, it would change and the ball would blow forward.
"It was changing during the rallies. You'd hit one shot thinking: 'OK, I've got the wind with me'. But it was changing and there was no rhythm. Your legs also get tired because you're doing so many small adjustment steps to try and get yourself in the right position." He added: "It was a match that I would have been expected to win and it was a very tough one to come through. I'm really, really happy I got through in straight sets, because it could have been a lot different."
Baltacha, through to the second round here for the first time in her career, looked well placed when she took the first set and won the opening three points of the second on King's serve, but not much went right thereafter. The American, an accomplished clay-court player, suddenly found her consistency and raced into a 5-0 lead. In the decider Baltacha recovered from 3-0 down to trail 3-4, but King went on to serve out the match.
Given that she had always struggled on this surface in the past, Baltacha was far from down-hearted. "I've picked up 230 points ranking points this year over the clay season, which isn't bad considering that over the last nine years I'd only probably picked up 50," she said. The British No 1 will now play in two successive Challenger tournaments on grass at Nottingham before heading for Eastbourne and Wimbledon.
Watson, who will break into the world's top 100 for the first time next month, was overpowered by Kanepi, the world No 16 and one of the game's biggest hitters. The 19-year-old from Guernsey forced two break points in the match but was unable to take either and lost after an hour and 11 minutes.
The day's biggest shock was provided by Arantxa Rus, a 20-year-old Dutchwoman ranked No 114 in the world. Rus, who lives near The Hague in a town called Monster, achieved the biggest result of her career when she beat Kim Clijsters, one of her sporting idols, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.
Clijsters led by a set and 5-2 and had a match point in the following game. The world No 2, who made 65 unforced errors, refused to blame defeat on her two-month lay-off after injuring her right ankle at a cousin's wedding. Instead she put her display down to doubting herself and having "the wrong attitude".
Maria Sharapova appeared to be joining Clijsters on the way out when she trailed Caroline Garcia, ranked No 188 in the world, by a set and 4-1. However, the Russian then won 11 games in succession to take the match 3-6, 6-4, 6-0. An attacking player with wonderfully fluent ground strokes, Garcia so impressed Murray that he predicted on Twitter that the 17-year-old Frenchwoman would be "number one in the world one day". Rafael Nadal, who was taken to five sets by John Isner in the first round, won in straight sets but had plenty of uncomfortable moments against his fellow Spaniard, Pablo Andujar. The world No 1 trailed 5-1 in the third set before winning 7-5, 6-3, 7-6.
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