When the draw for the French Open men’s tournament took place there was one first round match that caught everybody’s attention.
Andy Murray was pitched to play against Stan Wawrinka in what would be their 21st clash on the Tour and a repeat of the 2017 semi-finals. Some went as far as billing it as the match to see on the opening day of the 2020 Championships but in reality it turned out to be a let down. Leaving Murray facing some uncomfortable questions.
The showdown of the Grand Slam winners concluded with Wawrinka comprehensively winning 6-1, 6-3, 6-2, in exactly 100 minutes. Although amazingly almost a quarter (23 minutes) of that match took place over the first three games. Murray was nowhere to be seen, lacked his fiery passion and seemed to almost admit defeat before it had even happened.
“I need to have a long, hard think. It’s not for me the sort of match I would just brush aside and not give any thought to,” Murray said after.
“There are obviously reasons behind a performance like that. I think that’s probably in terms of scoreline, I might be wrong, but I think that’s maybe the worst of my career in a Grand Slam.’
“I don’t feel like the conditions are an excuse for it. I don’t feel like that’s a valid reason, maybe to not enjoy the matches as much when it’s like that, but not in terms of it shouldn’t affect your performance in any way.”
Amid the concern it is important to put Murray’s latest match into some context. His clash with Wawrinka on clay was the first time he has played a competitive match on the surface since 2017 at the same event. Coincidentally it was also against Wawrinka but in the semi-final stage. Since then he has undergone two hip surgeries and at one stage contemplated walking away from the sport for good.
The Brit is known and respected for his fighting spirit on the Tour but in reality is the curtain starting to slowly come down on his illustrious career?
“There have been matches that I have played since I came back where I hit the ball well. I know it wasn’t the best match at times, but (Alexander) Zverev was a couple of points away from winning the US Open, and I won against him the week beforehand,” an upbeat Murray reflected.
“It’s going to be difficult for me to play the same level as I did before. I mean, I’m 33 now and I was ranked No. 1 in the world, so it’s difficult with all the issues that I have had.”
Undoubtedly Murray still has the tools to threaten others on the ATP Tour but when it comes to best-of-five matches there is more uncertainty. Since 2018 he has only been able to play singles in four Grand Slam events due to injury setbacks and hasn’t won back-to-back matches at any of those. Leaving the question of where does he go from here?
Potentially he could try to change his game in some way or even consider playing just doubles at Grand Slams which he did at Wimbledon last year. Although Murray is stubborn and rarely gives in when he is facing adversity. For him, the plan is to make the most out of what he has and hope for the best.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that easy for me to change at this stage in my career, even though it’s something I have considered and looked at,” he said.
“When I play my best tennis of being an offensive baseliner that’s what I need to make sure I am doing.
“I need to play better to allow me to play the right way.”
It remains to be seen what will happen to Murray in the coming months. Although he can seek solace in the continued support from his peers which Wawrinka emphasised during his press conference.
“Andy won everything that you can win in tennis. He was No.1. He had an amazing career. He’s been back now after having hip surgery. Nobody expected him to come back on the tour. He’s getting back, he’s an amazing champion and it’s always going to be special to play against him,” the Swiss player concluded.
Unfortunately the chances of Murray expanding his Grand Slam trophy collection are slim at present. He could prove critics wrong like he has done with his hip recovery but it could be argued that this would be an even greater achievement.
Murray is down, but not quite out just yet.
Jelena Ostapenko cruises into the second round with a straight-set win over Petra Martic in Ostrava
Former Roland Garros champion and world number 44 Jelena Ostapenko cruised past number 5 seed Petra Martic 6-3 6-1 after 57 minutes to reach the second round at J&T Banka Ostrava Open.
Martic won her previous two head-to-head matches against Ostapenko at Indian Wells in 2018 and in Birmingham in 2019.
Ostapenko has scored her milestone 20th career over a top-20 rival. The Latvian player hit 30 winners to 15 unforced errors.
Martic got an early break in the first game and consolidated it with a hold of serve to take a 2-0 lead. Ostapenko saved two break points and held serve for 1-2 before breaking serve with a forehand passing shot in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2. The Latvian player reeled off five consecutive games to open up a 5-2 lead. Martic held serve to claw her way back to 3-5. Ostapenko served out the set at love. Ostapenko hit 20 winners to 10 unforced errors.
Ostapenko got an early break with a forehand crosscourt winner. The 2017 French Open champion went up a double break and hit a series of forehand winners to race out to a 4-0 lead extending her winning streak to five consecutive games. Martic held serve in the fifth game to close the gap to 1-4. Ostapenko held serve easily to build up a 5-1 lead with a crosscourt backhand winner. In the next game Ostapenko earned two match points, as Martic hit the netcord with a dropshot and closed out the match with a forehand down the line.
“I think I played really well well today. I just got used to playing the first couple of games, but then I played really well and I did not give her any chances to play her game, and I made so many winners. I played very smart and also used dropshots and mixed it up a little bit, which helped me, but in the deciding moments I was still aggressive. I knew Martic was going to make a lot of balls in play and I would have to be very focused and very consistent to beat her”, said Ostapenko.
Maria Sakkari reaches her third quarter final of the season in Ostrava
Maria Sakkari got through to her third quarter final of the season after beating Elina Svitolina 6-3 6-3 at the J&T Banka Open in Ostrava with five breaks and 32 winners.
Sakkari has already reached two quarter finals in 2020 in St. Petersburg and at the Western and Southern Open in New York and scored the fourth win of her career against a top 5 player.
Sakkari went up a 3-0 lead with a double break. Svitolina pulled one of the two breaks back in the fourth game to claw his way back to 1-3. Sakkari converted his third break point in the eighth game to win the first set 6-3.
Svitolina earned her first break in the third game of the second set to take a 2-1 lead. Sakkari battled to deuce four times and converted her third break points in a marathon fourth game to draw level to 2-2. Sakkari earned another brek to open up a 5-3 lead to close out the match after 1 hour and 16 minutes.
“Obviously winning against a player like Elina, the way I played I think that made me happy today. I think playing like me gives me a lot of confidence. Getting another top 5 win is very important for me. When I was starting my career, I had people telling me that I cannot play indoors. I think it was a big mistake listening to them. I have beaten very good indoor players in St. Petersburg and here in Ostrava. I have developed my game in a way that I can now be dangerous indoor sas well. My serve is big, and I am playing a little bit more aggressive. So I am super happy. I have proved these people wrong”, said Sakkari.
Grigor Dimitrov rallies from one set down to beat Pablo Andujar in Antwerp
Grigor Dimitrov came back from one set down to beat Pablo Andujar 4-6 6-3 6-4 at the European Open in Antwerp.
Andujar earned the break in the ninth game to win the first set 6-4. Dimitrov went up an early break in the second game to take the second set 6-3. The Bulgarian player raced out to a 4-1 lead with a double break in the decider. Andujar pulled one break back in the sixth game for 2-4. Dimitrov saved four match points in the eighth game to hold serve at deuce and converted his first match point in the 10th game to win the third set 6-4.
Ugo Humbert came back from one set down to beat this year’s US Open semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta 5-7 6-3 6-4 after 2 hours and 33 minutes Humbert earned an early break in the second game of the opening set to build up a 5-2 lead. Carreno Busta fought back by winning five consecutive games with two breaks in the ninth and eleventh games to win the first set 7-5.
Humbert saved four break points in the fifth game before breaking serve in the eighth game to win the second set sending the match to the third set. Humbert fended off four break points at 2-3 in the third set and broke serve to love to take a 5-4 lead, when Carreno Busta made three consecutive groundstroke errors. Humbert has improved his win-loss record to 18-11 and won the ASB Classic title in Auckland last January. The Frenchman scored the biggest win of his career when he beat Danil Medvedev in the Hamburg quarter final.
Humbert will face either US Taylor Fritz or South African qualifier Lloyd Harris. Fritz dropped six of his first service points in his 7-6 (7-5) 6-1 win over his compatriot Reilly Opelka.
Milos Raonic beat Aljaz Bedene 6-3 7-6 (7-4) in 86 minutes setting up a second round match against Cameron Norrie. Bedene fended off two match points, when he was serving at 5-6 15-40 to force the second set to the tie-break. Raonic rallied from 1-3 down to win the tie-break 7-4. The Canadian player reached the final at the Western and Southern Open in New York and lost to Borna Coric in the semifinal in St. Petersburg.
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