Andy Murray battles past Andrey Kuznetsov to avoid first-round upset at Roland Garros

Murray looked fractious early in the match but moved ahead in the third set before wrapping up a 6-4 4-6 6-2 6-0 win in two hours and 32 minutes

Paul Newman
Tuesday 30 May 2017 17:19 BST
Andy Murray waves to the crowd after beating his Russian opponent
Andy Murray waves to the crowd after beating his Russian opponent (Getty)

Not much has gone Andy Murray’s way in recent times but the world No 1 offered promise of better days ahead when he won his first-round match here at the French Open. By the end of Murray’s 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory over Russia’s Andrey Kuznetsov, which earned a second-round meeting with Martin Klizan, the Scot was playing with some of the flair that had been notably missing from his game of late.

It was also a good day for Murray’s Davis Cup colleague, Kyle Edmund, who beat Portugal’s Gastao Elias 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. However, Johanna Konta, the only British woman in the main draw, suffered her most disappointing defeat of the year when she was beaten 1-6, 7-6, 6-4 by Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh, the world No 109.

Troubled by illness, injury and a loss of form ever since he became world No 1 at the end of last year, Murray has struggled through the clay-court season, which last year proved the launchpad for the stunning run which saw him win nine of his last 12 tournaments.

Provided his health holds firm here – he was on antibiotics again last week after going down with another infection – Murray will be hoping that this tournament will give himself a chance to play himself back into form.

Andy Murray rushes to meet a drop-shot
Andy Murray rushes to meet a drop-shot (Getty)

He will need much more than a victory over the world No 73 to convince even himself that he has turned a corner, but in the two hours and 32 minutes that he took to dispose of Kuznetsov there were reasons for optimism. After the dip which saw him drop serve three times in losing the second set, Murray’s positive response was admirable.

“It was a decent start considering how I played in the build-up,” Murray said afterwards. “It definitely got better as it went on. I started to move a bit better towards the end. I was hitting the ball better when I was defending. That’s something I haven’t done so well in the last few weeks and didn’t start off the match doing particularly well.”

One of the most shocking aspects of Murray’s defeat to Fabio Fognini in Rome a fortnight ago was his repeated failure to chase down the Italian’s drop shots, but it was a moment of stunning athleticism by the Scot that proved a key moment here.

In the second game of the third set Murray chased what appeared a hopelessly lost cause but somehow got to the ball and managed to put up an excellent lob. Kuznetsov subsequently put his smash in the net, dropped his serve and won only two more games.

Murray agreed that playing over the best of five sets here could help him get back on track. “Maybe at the beginning of the match, if you’re coming in with maybe not too many matches, you feel slightly less pressure than you might do if it was best-of-three,” he said. “If you get down a set quickly, there’s not lots of wiggle room there. You’ve got to turn it around quickly.”

A general view of Court Philippe Chatrier
A general view of Court Philippe Chatrier (Getty)

The Scot’s next opponent has had his own physical issues of late. Klizan has been suffering with a calf problem which forced him to miss tournaments this month in Madrid, Rome and Geneva and appeared to be in trouble again during a stormy 7-6, 6-3, 4-6, 0-6, 6-4 victory over Laurent Lokoli, a French wild card.

Lokoli effectively accused the world No 50 of faking injury during the match, which lasted three hours and 39 minutes. “He was holding his leg for two sets,” Lokoli said. “He was fighting like hell and then, all of a sudden, you play a drop shot and he doesn’t run, doesn’t do anything. That’s why I won the fourth set 6-0. And then during the fifth set, all of a sudden it changes.”

The two men exchanged words during a changeover and at one stage Klizan shouted out in celebration when Lokoli double-faulted. It all made for a fiery atmosphere as the crowd on Court 14 got behind their man. At the end Lokoli refused to shake hands with the 27-year-old Slovakian and said afterwards that he had not been “respectful”.

A prickly Klizan refused to discuss either Lokoli’s comments or the declined handshake, but said he had thought seriously about pulling out of the tournament because of his injury. However, he did not withdraw from the doubles, in which he went out to play his first-round match – which he lost - just three hours after finishing his singles.

In his only previous meeting with Murray Klizan lost in three sets on an indoor hard court in Vienna at the end of last year. However, the 27-year-old Slovakian said that clay was his favourite surface. Why? “I like the colour,” he said.

Andrey Kuznetsov fought back to claim the second set
Andrey Kuznetsov fought back to claim the second set (Getty)

Edmund, another player who performs particularly well on clay, is through to the second round here for the third year in a row. He needed just an hour and 46 minutes to beat Elias, the world No 108, and closed out victory in the third set despite going 3-0 down. The 22-year-old Briton next faces either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Renzo Olivo, whose match was called off for the day because of fading light with the Argentinian leading 7-5, 6-4, 6-7, 5-4.

Konta’s defeat was a bitter disappointment given her excellent form this year and her flying start against Hsieh. The world No 8 won 13 of the first 15 points and took the first set in just 23 minutes, but thereafter she struggled to cope with her Taiwanese opponent’s unorthodox game. The world No 109 could not match Konta’s power but defended superbly and troubled her with subtle spins and variations of pace.

With Konta unable to put enough balls away on the slow surface, there were times when the 26-year-old Briton’s game was made to look one-dimensional. Konta still thinks that that clay can bring the best out of her, but she has yet to win a match in the main draw here, having now lost in the first round in all three of her appearances at Roland Garros.

“I’ve actually made a lot of improvements on this surface with every match that I’ve played,” Konta insisted. “I really felt that growth-wise and even level-wise I did improve with every single point, game, set, and match that I played throughout the season. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t get the chance to play another match here, because I definitely was enjoying my time on the surface.”

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