Wednesday 26 October 2016

Murray knows clay surface is now a plus

Eleanor Crooks

Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30

Andy Murray looking forward to Roland Garros. Photo: Christophe Ena/AP
Andy Murray looking forward to Roland Garros. Photo: Christophe Ena/AP

Clay was the surface that made Andy Murray "hate tennis", but the Scot heads into the French Open knowing it might just offer his best hope of a third Grand Slam title. Murray is the only player to have beaten both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the build-up to the tournament and goes in on an unbeaten streak of five matches after winning the Internazionali BNL d'Italia title in Rome.

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Until last year, the 29-year-old had never reached a final on clay, but he has since accumulated three titles, two of them at Masters level. That has led his former coach Brad Gilbert, among other pundits, to claim clay is now his best surface, and Murray said: "Right now, it's probably difficult to argue with that. For me, I think grass is my best surface. Maybe less players play well on grass than on clay, too, which maybe influences it a little bit."

It is all a far cry from three years ago, when playing on clay aggravated Murray's troublesome back to such an extent that he missed Roland Garros. In his column in Le Parisien, Murray said: "I could ignore the pain, but after two years of struggling and periods where life was really hard, I had lost the desire to play. I took more pleasure in training, I hated tennis in the sense that it was only suffering."

When asked why players like Djokovic and Nadal practise frequently with him, but not each other, Murray said: "They normally beat me, so maybe they're a bit happier to practise with me." His head-to-head record against both men is lopsided, but Murray will take plenty of confidence knowing he has won his most recent meeting with both. He beat Nadal for the second straight year in Madrid and in Rome he managed just his second win in his last 14 matches against Djokovic.

The French Open is the only Slam where Murray has never reached the final, although he got closer than ever last year with a five-set loss to Djokovic in the last four. This year he is seeded second for the first time, meaning he cannot play Djokovic until the final, while Nadal is also in the other half of the draw.

Murray is likely to have to get past fifth seed Kei Nishikori and defending champion Stan Wawrinka to reach the final, but he knows he has a great chance of victory. "I don't know if this is my best chance, but I'm coming in playing as well as I did last year if not better." His opener is against Radek Stepanek tomorrow.

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