Andy Murray has not had the best of build-ups to the French Open, but as he prepares for the start of the year's second Grand Slam tournament tomorrow the 25-year-old Scot is taking heart from his performances here 12 months ago. Despite tearing an ankle tendon in a fall during his third-round match – not to mention cracking a tooth on a baguette – Murray went on to reach last year's semi-finals before losing to Rafael Nadal, who went on to win his sixth Roland Garros title.
"I think it helped my confidence in my clay-court game all-round – not just for this event, but coming into the season and in general," Murray said yesterday. "Last year was a tough event for me, one of the toughest Slams that I've played or done well in. There were a lot of positives to take from that event.
"I feel like I can have a good run here. I'll obviously need to play good tennis, but last year definitely helped, because I wasn't 100 per cent healthy during the event. Provided I don't have any injuries like that and I play some good tennis, there's no reason why I can't have another great tournament."
Nevertheless, Murray will have to make a marked improvement on his recent performances on clay if he is to go anywhere near to matching his achievements last year. The world No 4 revealed recently that he has been troubled by a back problem for the last six months. Although he said yesterday that he felt "fine", it remains to be seen how he copes with matches over the best of five sets. He had to withdraw from the Madrid Masters earlier this month and has not gone beyond the quarter-finals in his three appearances this year on clay.
"I won't be the only one that's got niggles, but hopefully the worst of it has gone now," Murray said. "The next few months are very important to everybody this year. There are a lot of big tournaments coming up. One of the goals in that period is to stay injury-free, because if I am then I'll hopefully play some good tennis and have some good results."
Although Murray should not have too much difficulty negotiating the first two rounds here, his section of the draw is full of potential pitfalls thereafter. Bernard Tomic is one of the game's great emerging talents, Alexandr Dolgopolov is an unpredictable ball-striker who likes clay and David Ferrer is one of the finest clay-court players of recent times. If Murray reaches the semi-finals, the king of clay himself, Nadal, is likely to be his opponent.
Clay has always been Murray's most challenging surface. "The movement is the thing that always takes me a while to get used to," he said. "Normally after a few weeks that's OK, but it's something I always try to work on a little bit when I'm training. When I'm on a hard court I don't work that much on my movement on the court, whereas on clay I tend to do a little bit of it in my fitness sessions."
Ivan Lendl, Murray's coach, has been working with him here this week, but he was in Frankfurt yesterday for an exhibition tournament and will not return until tomorrow. The champion of Roland Garros in 1984, 1986 and 1987 also missed last week's Rome Masters.
Murray was asked whether he would have benefited from spending more time with his coach, but he insisted the arrangement had worked well. He pointed out that they had spent time training together away from tournaments and that Lendl would be with him here and next month at Queen's Club and Wimbledon.
While Murray has not been at his best of late, the three men ranked above him have been at the top of their game and the stage is set for some major battles in the next four months, which feature three Grand Slam tournaments and the Olympic Games.
Novak Djokovic would become the first man to hold all four Grand Slam titles for 43 years if he wins here, Nadal is going for his seventh French Open crown in eight years and Federer wants to end a 28-month drought without a Grand Slam title. The world No 1 ranking is also at stake, with Federer and Nadal both within striking distance of Djokovic, who has never gone beyond the semi-finals here.
Federer, who lost to Nadal in the final here for the fourth time last year, said he saw himself as the third favourite. "I think Rafa playing for his seventh title is the favourite," Federer said. "I know how incredible he can be here at Roland Garros. For me it would be Rafa, Novak and me in third position."
French Open: Murray's possible path to final
Ito Tatsuma (Japan, aged 24, world No 69)
Won Challenger tournament last time out but has played only two matches on clay this year.
Jarkko Nieminen (Finland, aged 30, world No 47)
Veteran left-hander has lost all three of his previous matches against Murray. Won second title of his career in Sydney in January.
Bernard Tomic (Australia, aged 19, world No 28)
Former world junior No 1 and currently highest ranked teenager in senior game. Not at his best on clay.
Alexandr Dolgopolov (Ukraine, aged 23, world No 19)
Breakthrough year in 2011 but has since suffered with illness and injury. Clay is his favourite surface.
David Ferrer (Spain, aged 30, world No 6)
One of the world's best clay-court players. Has won two titles on clay this year and has beaten Murray in all three meetings on the surface.
Rafael Nadal (Spain, aged 25, world No 2)
The king of clay is going for his seventh French Open title in eight years. Unbeaten in four matches against Murray on clay.
Novak Djokovic (Serbia, aged 25, world No 1)
Will become first man for 43 years to hold all four Grand Slam titles if he wins here, but has never reached final at Roland Garros.