Andy Murray claimed the first French Open victory of his career here yesterday, but it is unlikely to be a memory he will cherish. In 17-year-old Jonathan Eysseric, the British No 1 met the youngest man in the 128-strong draw – and at No 387 the third lowest-ranked – but the French wild card nearly gave him the biggest shock of his professional life. Although Murray eventually won 6-2, 1-6, 4-6, 6-0, 6-2, he took control only when Eysseric ran out of steam after taking a two-sets-to-one lead.
Until now Murray has usually been the young gun hoping to shoot down a more experienced opponent, but on this occasion the roles were reversed. Eysseric, who was picked out by Roger Federer as a practice partner last year, was the world's leading junior 12 months ago, but this was only his second match in a Grand Slam tournament – he lost in the first round here last year – and only his third on the main professional tour. The psychological effect that defeat might have had on Murray is something the 21-year-old Scot might choose not to contemplate.
Murray insisted afterwards that he never felt in danger of going out, but admitted he had played poorly. He said he had finished a six-day course of antibiotics yesterday morning after going down with a throat infection that had cut his practice time in half. Murray plans to take it easy today and is unlikely to have to play again until Wednesday, when Jose Acasuso awaits in the second round after the Argentine world No 49's straight-sets victory over Dominik Hrbaty.
With Richard Gasquet, the French No 1, in one of his spells of personal turmoil and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the No 2, out with a knee injury, you might have expected the first-day crowd to revel in the performance of one of their big hopes for the future, but for much of the match Court Suzanne Lenglen, the second show court here, was strangely subdued.
Interest in the contest was reflected in the press box, which at one stage was occupied by nine British reporters, three British photographers and one Asian journalist. It was only when Eysseric took the second set that L'Equipe, the French sports daily, sent a reporter to the court.
Heaven knows what the British media and Wimbledon crowd would have made of a 17-year-old local giving the world No 12 the run-around, but with 13 men in the world's top 100 the French have perhaps become blasé about first-round successes at their own tournament. There was the occasional "Allez!" and even one chant of "Jonathan! Jonathan", but for the most part the crowd offered no more than warm support for their man.
When Murray took the first set with something to spare he seemed to be heading for a comfortable first victory on these courts, his only previous appearance having ended in a five-sets defeat to Gael Monfils two years ago, but a bewildering collapse followed.
Having played conservatively in the first set, allowing Eysseric to make his own mistakes, Murray's game degenerated into a limp display in which he all but invited Eysseric to take the initiative. On the rare occasions that he attacked, Murray looked secure enough, but his passive approach let Eysseric assume control of too many rallies.
Murray is usually one of the game's smartest players, but his shot selection was often poor. In particular, he persisted in playing drop shots, despite the fact that Eysseric's speed around the court made it a perilous tactic. Murray's execution of one of his favourite strokes was also poor and he knew it, shouting "rubbish" after netting one especially woeful effort.
From the start of the second set Murray lost nine games out of 11, but there were signs of a revival towards the end of the third, when he must have been encouraged by the sight of a trainer massaging Eysseric's tired legs. To his credit, Murray kept his head as the fourth set resumed the pattern of the first, with Eysseric's mistakes multiplying as the Briton rediscovered some consistency.
When Murray won his eighth game in a row to take a 2-0 lead in the final set the end seemed nigh for Eysseric, but the teenager dug deep to break serve twice more before finally putting a volley out on his opponent's second match point. Murray leant back and screamed at the skies, probably in relief as much as in celebration.
"I didn't play particularly well," Murray admitted afterwards. "I was leaving a lot of balls in the middle of the court. He made me do a lot of running, which wasn't the plan going into the match, but I knew it was going to be tough. Playing a young guy you've not seen takes a little bit of time to get used to, but maybe it took a bit longer than I hoped."
He added: "I never felt like I was going to lose the match. I was feeling pretty under control. I wasn't playing well, but I felt he was starting to get tired." Eysseric said: "At one stage I thought I might beat him, but I haven't been in a situation quite like that before. I think his experience told in the end. I suffered stress cramps from the end of the third set and he coped with the pressure better than I did."
Murray was not the only seed to struggle. Novak Djokovic, the world No 3, looked a shadow of his normal confident self in losing the first four games and the first set to Germany's Denis Gremelmayr but recovered to win 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2.
Two former champions went out. Carlos Moya, the No 16 seed, was beaten in five sets by Eduardo Schwank, an Argentine qualifier, while Gustavo Kuerten, three times a winner, played the final match of his career. The 31-year-old Brazilian, who lost in straight sets to Paul-Henri Mathieu in his first Grand Slam tournament for three years following a serious hip injury, was in tears at the end and told the crowd: "It's great to have my family and my coach here, but more important was the love you gave me."Reuse content