Murray sizzles in the Paris sunshine
Scot's aggression and variety too much for Chela in first round of French Open
Monday 25 May 2009
Ah, the joys of Paris in the spring. Unless you were one of the losers you could not have failed to be bewitched by the opening of the French Open here yesterday. For much of the day the sun beat down from a cloudless sky, a light breeze soothed heated brows and even Marat Safin managed a smile in celebration of a rare victory.
If there had not been interminable queues at the ice-cream stalls, this would have been a fan's vision of tennis heaven, even if Amélie Mauresmo's defeat by Anna-Lena Groenefeld was a less than perfect finish to proceedings for the home crowd.
Andy Murray's all-black outfit did not reflect the mood of the day, but his tennis did. The 22-year-old Scot, who was last out on Suzanne Lenglen Court, beat Juan Ignacio Chela 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in an hour and 43 minutes, his game as bright as the evening sunshine. While victory was no more than the world No 3 should have expected against an opponent still rediscovering his game after a serious back injury, the manner of it was hugely satisfying.
Murray moved smoothly around the court, varied his game to devastating effect, attacked whenever the opportunity arose and hit 55 winners. He now meets Mischa Zverev or Potito Starace, who play today.
Although Chela was out for eight months with a herniated disc, the 29-year-old Argentine is an accomplished clay-court player. He has won four titles on his favourite surface, whereas Murray had never won more than two matches in a row on terre battue before reaching the semi-finals in Monte Carlos last month.
The first three games took 17 minutes, Murray dropping his serve in the opener, but the Scot then took control. With Murray mixing drop shots and lobs with some sparkling ground strokes, Chela soon looked exhausted and moved as slowly as rush-hour traffic on the nearby Périphérique whenever he returned to his seat.
Murray said: "I hit a lot of winners, dictated most of the points, and when the rallies went long, which he normally likes, I was coming out on top in a lot of them."
The crowd warmed to Murray, with one group of fans, presumably including an optimistic young woman, unfurling a banner reading: "Dis moi oui, Andy." Murray appreciated the support. "I fancy they like it when guys play with a little bit of flare," he said. "I got a great ovation when I went on the court and they showed their appreciation afterwards."
The Scot was asked for his views on a recent $12,000 (£7,535) fine and five-week ban for Mathieu Montcourt for placing bets totalling $192 on other players' matches. The Frenchman, who beat Lu Yen-Hsun yesterday, said his biggest bet was $3 and called the sanctions "ridiculous". Murray said he did not think betting by players should be tolerated but added that a distinction should be made between fixing matches for large profits and an individual placing small bets which were "not really making a whole lot of difference to his bank account".
Ivo Karlovic (left), at 6ft 10in the tallest player in tennis, was another who thrived in the heat. Clay generally undermines a big server's advantages, but the courts here are quicker than most, particularly in warmer conditions.
Lleyton Hewitt was in the firing line as the 30-year-old Croatian served 55 aces, believed to be a record for a single match in the Open era. Hewitt, remarkably, took the match, coming back from two sets down for the fifth time in his career to win 6-7, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3.
There is no grittier fighter than the former world No 1, who has always had one of the best returns of serve but was aced 41 times in the first three sets. Karlovic is 22 places higher than Hewitt at No 28 in the world rankings and had beaten him in their three previous meetings.
The 55 aces were reckoned to be 18 more than the previous record at Roland Garros, by Andy Roddick against Michael Chang eight years ago. The all-time record is held by Ed Kauder, who fired 59 past Hamilton Richardson at Forest Hills in 1955 but, like Karlovic, still lost. Indeed, in the last 18 years four players have hit 47 aces or more – Karlovic on two occasions – yet they have all lost.
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