Saturday 17 February 2018

Now or never for Murray in Paris, warns McEnroe

Andy Murray and former Wimbledon champion John McEnroe
Andy Murray and former Wimbledon champion John McEnroe

Simon Briggs

John McEnroe believes it is now or never for Andy Murray at the French Open.

McEnroe, himself a nearly man in Paris, rates this year's tournament as Murray's best chance to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires and take a mighty step towards the career grand slam.

The obstacles remain huge. Murray faces defending champion Stan Wawrinka in today's semi-final, and a victory there would probably throw him up against runaway favourite Novak Djokovic in Sunday's showpiece. But there are reasons for -optimism too.

In his build-up to the tournament, Murray has never been so dominant, and he is exhibiting that grouchy, bared-teeth mood that often heralds his sharpest tennis.

"Maybe Andy's best chance to win the French ever could be this year," said McEnroe, a seven-time grand slam singles winner. "I don't know if he's going to be able to keep this up, so to me he has got his best shot ever.

"I think he is doing everything he can. Andy's had an incredibly consistent record in the slams. He has arguably been coming up against the three greatest guys who ever lived. So he has gotten a lot better and he can take pride in that. He can still add on a couple of majors."

The career trajectories of Murray and Wawrinka began in similar style, with a junior grand-slam victory apiece, and have now carried them both to a pair of senior majors as well. Apart from that, they could hardly be more different.

Murray was the prodigy, shutting out all distractions from his life and scrambling his way up the rankings like a ninja. His reward was a place in tennis's 'Big Four', albeit as its least distinguished member - the Ringo Starr of the group.

So when he finally broke his grand-slam duck at the 2012 US Open, it was two victories in one. He had not only beaten Djokovic but also resolved the question he had come to hate: when are you finally going to win one of these things, Andy?

No-one was asking Wawrinka that question at the start of 2014, but he ripped through the draw of the Australian Open and took out Rafael Nadal in a bizarre final. It was a shock win for a man who had drifted in and out of the conversation for years.

A newspaper report from 2009 had described him as "a strange player, clearly talented but short of match fitness and as clumsy on court as (Roger) Federer is graceful".

Yesterday, meanwhile, Djokovic advanced to the last four thanks to a 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Tomas Berdych.

In the women's event, Serena Williams also reached the semi-final after beating Yulia Putintseva in three sets - 5-7 6-4 6-1 - after a display that was riddled with errors. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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