The crowd at the French Open, which starts here tomorrow, can be the most unforgiving in tennis. Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Martina Hingis have all been the object of their boos and whistles in recent years.
Even Rafael Nadal, unbeaten in the 28 matches he has played at Roland Garros, was persistently jeered after complaining about a line call against Sébastien Grosjean. Not that being French necessarily saves you from peeved Parisians, who turned on Henri Leconte after his 1988 defeat in the final by Mats Wilander when he suggested some of his fellow countrymen had not understood his tactics.
Although Andy Murray has never been a racket-thrower – "I prefer shouting," he said with a smile here yesterday – the 22-year-old Scot can wear his heart on his sleeve and appreciates how easily the crowd at Roland Garros can be alienated. "They're very passionate, but they can be tough," he said. "You have got to be on your best behaviour when you play here because they don't like racket-throwing or shouting.
"Even if you're not playing well and are playing badly, it's not as though they help you through it. They try and get on top of you. It's just different. All the Slams are different and that's what makes them special. You definitely wouldn't get it at Wimbledon."
In the not-so-distant past, Murray was an on-court scowler and grumbler who would berate himself – and, on occasions, his coaching entourage – if things started to go wrong. Whether there is any connection between his appreciably calmer demeanour and his improved results could be a subject for debate, but Murray admits he has never felt better going into the finale of the clay-court season, which is usually his least productive part of the year.
"I do feel much more comfortable," he said. "Physically, I feel better. My sliding and my strength on the wide balls is a lot better than it was. Obviously, confidence is better. I didn't have the best run coming into the French Open last year."
Murray has played here only twice before, losing in the first round to Gaël Monfils in 2006 and to Nicolas Almagro in the third round last year. This year, however, building on the outstanding run since Wimbledon 2008 that has taken him to No 3 in the world rankings, the Scot has enjoyed his best results on clay, reaching the semi-finals in Monte Carlo and the last eight in Madrid.
The major difference is that Murray has not substantially changed his game style to suit the surface and now tries to dictate the pace of his matches. "I can still play the same way as I do on hard courts, though I need to move better," he said. "Against the real clay-courters who play with a lot of topspin, you can almost try and make it a hard-court match by playing a little bit flatter and coming to the net a little bit and shortening the points."
He added: "The courts here are quick and there is a big difference between playing on the outside courts and playing on the stadium courts, where there are huge run-backs. Last year, Almagro hit over 20 aces against me on one of the smaller courts. Guys can come through the draw playing very aggressive tennis. It's quicker than any of the other clay courts."
Murray's first-round opponent is Juan Ignacio Chela, who beat him at the Australian Open three years ago but has lost their last three encounters. The 29-year-old Argentinian, a clay-court specialist, has played eight tournaments (compared with Murray's three) on terre battue this year, but has gone beyond the second round only twice. In eight visits to Roland Garros, he has made the second week just once and from a career-high 15th in the world rankings he is now down to No 205, having missed the second half of last year through injury.
Thereafter, if the rankings and seedings work out, Murray could play Germany's Mischa Zverev in the second round, Spain's Feliciano Lopez in the third and the Croatian Marin Cilic in the fourth. In the quarter-finals, he is seeded to meet the Frenchman Gilles Simon, with Nadal, aiming for his fifth successive title here, likely to await in the semi-finals, although the world No 1 may have to beat Lleyton Hewitt, David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco along the way.
Roger Federer, beaten by Nadal in the last three finals here but revitalised by his victory over the Spaniard in Madrid last weekend, is seeded to meet Novak Djokovic in the other semi-final.Reuse content