Murray sets sights on turning clay to silver in France
Unlike England's cricket team, Andy Murray has never lost to an Australian. And at no point in his untroubled win over Nick Kyrgios here yesterday did he look like interrupting a sequence of wins that stretched back over 11 matches and six different Antipodean opponents. Perhaps Trevor Bayliss should give him a call.
Unusually, for a player whose instincts lean heavily towards caution, Murray insisted later he has never been in better shape to win the French Open, although he knows he must play better in the second week than he has done in the first. He beat Argentinian Facundo Arguello without fuss, dropped a set against the bullish Joao Sousa and, despite serving below his best, tamed a wounded Kyrgios 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 over two hours in the third round yesterday.
"Definitely coming into the tournament, is the best I have played on clay; the results would obviously suggest that," he said, reflecting on the first clay titles of his career, in Munich and Madrid, where he beat Rafael Nadal in the final.
"I'd never won a clay court tournament, never been to the final or had many wins against any of the top guys on the clay. In Madrid, I managed to do that against Kei [Nishikori], Milos [Raonic] and Rafa. I played some very good matches there.
"Winning the tournament and changing my schedule helped a lot. I never played any of the smaller events on the tour on clay before. I feel that that was a good decision from me and my team. Also, physically, I gave myself time to get used to the surface, one I struggled on with my back for a few years, and gave myself a proper training period, built it up slowly, and made a few changes to the way that I prepared for this clay court season."
However, when told that 68 per cent of ITV viewers thought he was going to win the title, Murray responded: "That seems very high, when you've still got Rafa, Roger [Federer] and Novak [Djokovic] in the tournament, but I'll give it my best shot. I haven't played as well so far as I did in Madrid. I'll need to get better if I want to go further."
Murray has reason to feel good about his game, having now won all 13 of his matches on clay this summer. He has not only improved his movement but, for the first time, according to his coach Amelie Mauresmo, he has been able to train with the intensity that got him to two slam titles and an Olympic gold medal.
Kyrgios, nursing a sore elbow and wrist that blew up on him in the second set, said later, "I've got a lot of respect for Andy. He's only done good things for me and helped me out. I want all the best for him. I think he can do well this week. He's definitely got the game and he can do well. He plays great on clay. He's been having a great season."
Murray thought he might be playing David Goffin in the fourth round, but he quickly readjusted his sights to Jeremy Chardy, who beat the 17th seed with apparent ease 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 also yesterday. The 28-year-old Frenchman, ranked 45 in the world, beat Murray on the hardcourt of Cincinnati three years ago, but has lost their other five encounters, the most recent on clay in Rome a couple of weeks ago, before Murray withdrew from the tournament to rest ahead of Roland Garros after a tiring run on the surface he says is his least favourite - but obviously no longer the pit of doom that some people imagine.
Kyrgios had to take a medical timeout before the third set but his power had all but evaporated. "I have done so much [to fix his injuries] and it's pretty heartbreaking going out there and something like that holding you back. I am entered in a couple of tournaments, and I will do everything I can to get ready for Wimbledon. That's my best chance to win a grand slam." Even in defeat, Kyrgios talks like a winner.
Sunday Indo Sport