Andy Murray knows the importance of taking one match at a time but a Scottish eyebrow or two must have been raised by a result from Court 2 here yesterday. According to the seedings Murray was en route to face David Nalbandian in the fourth round of the French Open, but the world No 7 became the highest-ranked player to go out of the tournament when he was beaten by France's Jeremy Chardy.
The winner of Murray's next match, against Nicolas Almagro, whom the British No 1 regards as one of the best clay-court players in the world, will now meet either Chardy, the world No 145, or Dmitry Tursunov, the No 33, who beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 7-6, 6-0, 6-0. Murray, who had not won a match on these courts before this year, has never played Chardy but has beaten Tursunov in all four of their meetings, the most recent of which was on clay in Hamburg earlier this month.
Nalbandian won the first two sets against Chardy but lost 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 after suffering a leg injury. The Frenchman, who won the Wimbledon junior title three years ago, had never played five sets before and described the victory as the best of his career. When Nalbandian was asked about Chardy's performance he grudgingly said the 21-year-old had "played all right".
For the moment, nevertheless, Murray's focus will be on Almagro, a 22-year-old Spaniard who has been one of the game's most successful players on clay in 2008. The world No 20 has played seven clay-court tournaments this year, winning two of them and reaching a final, three quarter-finals and a third round in the others.
"I put him in there with the top players on clay," Murray said. "He's got a big serve, a big game. He doesn't move particularly well, but he plays very aggressively and dominates the majority of his points."
Murray, whose brother Jamie went out of the first round of the doubles, was understandably delighted with his emphatic 6-4, 6-0, 6-4 second-round victory over Jose Acasuso on Wednesday night but is hungry for more success. "I want to make the second week," he said. "That's my goal and beating a clay-courter like Almagro would be a great way to do it."
Further down the Avenue de la Porte d'Auteuil the survivor from this section of the draw should meet Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals. The world No 2 took his unbeaten run at Roland Garros to 23 matches when he crushed Nicolas Devilder, a qualifier, for the loss of only five games. Nadal, who is aiming to become the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1981 to win four successive titles here, now plays Jarkko Nieminen.
Roger Federer's attempt to complete his collection of Grand Slam crowns has been thwarted by Nadal for the past three years here and for a short while the world No 1's journey again looked like foundering on Spanish rocks. Albert Montanes took the first set before Federer recovered to win 6-7, 6-1, 6-0, 6-4, sealing victory with his 13th ace.
Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, who won her third French Open title 10 years ago, was the last Spanish woman to triumph here and cheered from the sidelines as her compatriot, Carla Suarez Navarro, the world No 132, condemned Amélie Mauresmo to an all too familiar early exit. Mauresmo, who has never gone beyond the quarter-finals here, was beaten 6-3, 6-4 by a 19-year-old opponent playing in her first Grand Slam tournament.
Jelena Jankovic, the world No 3, beat New Zealand's Marina Erakovic 6-2, 7-6 but needed medical attention after hurting her right wrist. "It was gradually getting worse," Jankovic said. "The balls were a little bit heavier because the weather is humid and the court is wet."
In the quarter-finals Jankovic is seeded to meet Venus Williams, who beat the rain by overwhelming Selima Sfar, a Tunisian qualifier, 6-2, 6-4. Not that the American would have been in a hurry to go off and do some sightseeing. Asked whether she might visit the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre if she had time, she replied: "Rue St-Honoré. Shopping. I don't have culture."