Britain's male tennis players usually feel as comfortable on clay as a lobster in a tank at a Paris restaurant. Roger Taylor, in 1973, and Tim Henman, in 2004, are the only Britons in the Open era to have played in a French Open quarter-final.
Today, however, Andy Murray will join that select group when he plays Fernando Gonzalez. Murray had always thought that his best chance of winning Grand Slam tournaments would be in New York or Melbourne, on his favoured hard courts, or at Wimbledon, where he is more comfortable on grass than most players.
After Rafael Nadal's early exit, however, the bookmakers see the 22-year-old Scot as the second favourite, behind Roger Federer, to win the title here. Murray was seeded to meet Nadal in the semi-finals, but now the winner of his quarter-final will face either Robin Soderling, the world No 1's conqueror, or Nikolay Davydenko, who has won two of his last three matches against Murray.
The world No 3, nevertheless, is not looking beyond his next match. "I watched some of Nadal's match on the TV and it wasn't like I was even rooting for the other player," Murray said. "It would have been a great challenge to play Rafa at the French and a great experience, but I believe I could beat anybody if I play great. For some guys these things make a big difference, but I always try to focus on just winning the match in front of me."
Given Gonzalez's current form, Murray will be in for a battle. The 28-year-old Chilean has won all four of his matches here in straight sets and was outstanding against Victor Hanescu in the last round. Armed with a huge forehand, he can be one of the most entertaining players to watch, though there have been times when he has played with a hit-and-hope approach.
Murray will hope his ability to retrieve so many shots and make his opponent play the extra ball will be significant, particularly as there are doubts over Gonzalez's fitness. The world No 12 has been recovering from an ankle injury suffered when running across the court in Rome to sign autographs at the end of a match.
The two men have met only twice before, Gonzalez winning in Basle four years ago and Murray at the US Open the following year. "I know him reasonably well," Murray said. "We don't play that many of the same tournaments. He misses quite a few Masters Series and plays in the South American clay events where I don't go, so we only see each other at the big events, where people tend to keep themselves to themselves. He's a very entertaining player to watch, but I don't know him well as a person."
Gonzalez, who has won 11 titles and lost to Federer in the Australian Open final two years ago, is the more experienced clay-court player, having reached the last eight here on two previous occasions, but Murray has been learning with every match.
"All my matches have been different," Murray said. "For instance look at the way [Juan Ignacio] Chela plays compared to [Marin] Cilic. It was tough to get into return games against Cilic because he serves well, whereas Chela doesn't have a great serve.
"My movement has been a lot better. The courts are very slippy. All the players have been having problems falling over and they are not really watering the courts. I'm playing much better than at the start of the week, but I'll need to because it's getting tougher."
Laura cleans up
Laura Robson, Britain's junior Wimbledon champion, beat Russia's Karina Pimkina 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the girls' singles at the French Open yesterday. "I'm trying to change my game to suit clay more," the world junior No 1 said. "But I don't like what it does to my socks." The 15-year-old insisted she is not expecting to repeat her achievements at Wimbledon. "I'm just going match by match," she said.Reuse content