The symbolism was perfect. As Fabrice Santoro emerged from a press conference after his 20th and final appearance at the French Open, Andy Murray, a 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 winner over Potito Starace, was waiting to follow him into the interview room.
The Frenchman, nicknamed "The Magician" by Pete Sampras because of his unique blend of spins and slices, is Murray's favourite player. The admiration is mutual, with Murray the closest in style to Santoro among the next generation, although the Scot possesses the power that has always been a missing factor in the world No 41's game.
Like Santoro, Murray can enchant and occasionally frustrate his supporters, but he rarely bores them. Yesterday was a case in point. After a miserable spell in which he lost 11 out of 13 games, Murray was trailing 5-1 in the third set and in danger of going out of the tournament. From that point, however, the 22-year-old Scot gritted his teeth to produce some sparkling tennis and earn a third-round meeting with Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic, who beat Feliciano Lopez in four sets.
Having paid tribute to Santoro – "He's just so different, a bit of a throwback," Murray said – the world No 3 stressed the importance of pleasing the crowds. "People definitely come to be entertained," he said. "People aren't going to come to watch if they don't think they're going to enjoy it."
Murray appeared to be coasting after breaking serve twice in the first set. However, from 1-0 up in the second his level dipped alarmingly. Routine ground strokes and volleys were dumped into the net or beyond the lines and even those balls that made the court were often woefully short. Murray also looked uneasy on his feet and took a spectacular tumble making a vain chase for one of Starace's frequent and well-disguised drop shots.
As Murray's form plummeted, the Italian grew in confidence. Although the 27-year-old world No 104 has only ever won one Grand Slam match away from Roland Garros, he has reached two finals on his favourite surface.
Starace had set points at 5-1 and 5-3, but Murray saved the first with a service winner and the second with a majestic forehand. Having looked curiously subdued during his lean spell, Murray quickly fired himself up again, greeting his winning shot on his first set point with a roar that echoed around the sparsely populated Philippe Chatrier Stadium. In the fourth set neither player looked in serious trouble until Murray turned on the heat as Starace served at 4-5. The Italian succumbed on the Scot's third match point, which was converted with a forehand cross-court winner.
Was Murray worried that he had to work so hard for victory? "Any time you win, I don't think there's anything to be concerned about," he said. "My aim is to make the second week – and I need just one more win to do that."
Rafael Nadal, no doubt frustrated at being asked to play the last match of the day on Suzanne Lenglen Court, was desperate to win in time to watch last night's Champions League final and raced to a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Russia's Teimuraz Gabashvili.
The women's world No 1, Dinara Safina conceded only two games against Vitalia Diatchenko in the second round, while another all-Russian affair produced a thriller as Maria Sharapova beat Nadia Petrova 6-2, 1-6, 8-6. Sharapova, playing only her second tournament following a 10-month absence with a shoulder injury, proved she has lost none of her fighting qualities by coming back from 4-2 down in the third set to beat the world No 11.Reuse content