Saturday 22 July 2017

McEnroe tips Murray to reach French Open final

McEnroe praised Murray for his unusually positive attitude and predicted he will go on to play in the final here for the second year running. Photo: Getty Images
McEnroe praised Murray for his unusually positive attitude and predicted he will go on to play in the final here for the second year running. Photo: Getty Images

Simon Briggs

Anything is possible for Andy Murray, according to John McEnroe, now that the world No 1 has shrugged off the niggles and neuroses that plagued his Roland Garros build-up.

Murray's 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Karen Khachanov yesterday was the performance of a man who has timed his surge to perfection.

Afterwards, McEnroe praised Murray (right) for his unusually positive attitude and predicted he will go on to play in the final here for the second year running.

"Andy's been great," said McEnroe, who also maintains that a 10th French Open for Rafael Nadal is far from a foregone conclusion.

"The draw looked fairly tough in the beginning, but now you would have to say you would be somewhat surprised if he didn't get at least to the semis, if not the final."

Murray was going up against a young player who delivers venomous power off both wings, but this suited him, because Murray is tennis's great shock absorber.

Standing 6ft 6in and weighing some 15st, Khachanov looks like he should be packing down in the middle of a rugby scrum, and he used all his strength to generate 34 clean winners - five more than Murray managed.

However, tennis is not just about pulverising the ball. For Murray, it's about shaping and manipulating his shots into awkward parts of the court. If there was one key to his win, it was his ability to work his returns on to Khachanov's backhand, thus avoiding the one-two punch of serve and forehand that the Russian wanted to deploy.

How different this performance was to the way Murray had been playing in the build-up to Paris. He hit a low point in Madrid, where he was so far off the pace that he made Borna Coric - a flyweight in power terms - look like the tennis equivalent of Anthony Joshua.

Since he returned to best-of-five-set tennis, however, Murray has seemed more self-assured. His only missteps yesterday were two dropped service games. But he was able to reverse the damage on both occasions by winning the next game against the Khachanov serve, which he broke five times overall.

"I said after the last match that what's important is what you're thinking right before the following point," said Murray.

"I have hit the ball cleaner and started to see the right shots at the right moments."

Murray's reward is a reprise of last year's US Open quarter-final against Kei Nishikori - a dramatic match in which a random belch of noise from the PA system on Arthur Ashe Stadium triggered a switch in momentum, and an exhausting five-set win for Nishikori.

The two singles draws are developing in very different ways. In the absence of any former slam champions, Simona Halep reinforced her status as the women's favourite yesterday by thrashing Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-1.

In the men's event, all the big names are still standing. The only quarter-finalist who was not seeded to reach this point is Pablo Carreno Busta, who beat Milos Raonic on Sunday to earn a crack at Rafael Nadal today. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

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