Andy Murray fights back from two sets down to overcome the veteran Czech on Court Phillipe Chatrier, on what was otherwise a disappointing day for British interest at Roland Garros . . .
Back on court for the second day’s play of his first round match with Radek Stepanek, Andy Murray walked on to Phillipe Chatrier after lunch trailing the world no. 129 by two sets to one.
Murray had in fact battled back from two sets down on Monday, after Stepanek had raced into a 6-3, 6-3 lead, but at a rain affected Roland Garros the Scot had powered through the third set to take it 6-0 and when poor light later brought play to a halt, overnight he led the fourth session 4-2.
Would a night’s sleep revitalise Murray? Or had the the respite arrived at the right time for Stepanek?
In the very first game of the day it appeared as though it may have been the latter, but Murray managed to save two break points on his serve and hold on to his advantage for 5-2, with one more service hold required to level proceedings. Stepenak – at 37 the oldest man to play in a grand-slam event since Jimmy Connors in 1991 – held his serve to force that requirement for Murray, but the former US Open and Wimbledon champion held his nerve to take the set.
At that point it seemed as though momentum would see Murray coast to victory, but the fifth and final set would ultimately see the protagonists duel for a further 72 minutes. Stepanek’s all-court game and extravagant drop-shots were a formidable thorn in Murray’s side, whilst the fact that the Czech native was serving first in the set perhaps gave him a psychological edge as the scoreboard reached 5-4.
And with Murray serving to stay in the match, a missed forehand at 30-15 put Stepanek within two points of victory. Pressure was on the Scot, who took the next point, but then immediately found himself at deuce. A 20 plus stroke rally then produced a moment of great tension, with Murray stretched, but he found a drop shot of his own that Stepanek couldn’t reach, before smashing down an ace to secure the hold in emphatic fashion.
It may well have broken the will of his resilient opponent, as Murray raced to a 40-15 lead on Stepanek’s serve, before his rival put a forehand into the net and gifted the chance to serve for the match. It wasn’t plain sailing – Murray double-faulted at match point with the score at 40-30 – but when Stepanek missed a volley moments later, Murray had finally wrapped up a tumultuous first-round affair.
“It was unbelievable what he’s doing,” Murray said of Stepanek. “He had an extremely bad injury last year so to come out fighting at 37 like that is unbelievable. I don’t expect to be doing that at that age so I’m just pleased to get through.”
“He was serving well, he hardly missed any volleys and using a lot of drop shots. It was extremely difficult – I wasn’t able to dictate and get a rhythm and that’s credit to him and the way he played.
Murray defeats Stepanek 3-6, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3, 7-5
“I knew I had the momentum yesterday but just playing a fifth set was always going to be difficult. I fought extremely hard today and get another chance to play tomorrow.”
The fortunes of Britain’s women in the draw were not so encouraging, as Johanna Konta and Laura Robson exited the tournament at the first round stage without winning a set.
British number one and 20th seed Konta – who enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2015 – was soundly beaten in just over an hour by Germany’s Julia Goerges, going down 6-2 6-3. Robson meanwhile, plagued by injuries over the past two years and having fallen to world no. 329, lost 6-2 in each set to the German 28th seed Andrea Petkovic.
Next up for Murray is a second-round clash with 22-year-old French wildcard Mathias Bourgue tomorrow. Ranked world No. 165, surely we can expect Dunblane’s finest to have an easier assignment, can’t we…?