For the second time in as many days, Andy Murray had to fight back to beat a spirited opponent over five sets and secure his place in the next round of the French Open.
This time the antagonist was 22-year-old French wildcard Mathias Bourgue, the world no. 164, who at one point in the match won eight consecutive games and had fans of the British number one fearing an early exit.
Murray, 29, eventually came through the battle and lived to fight another day, wrapping up a 6-2 2-6 4-6 6-2 6-3 victory. But dispatching Bourge – who incredibly was appearing in his first ever grand slam – required all of Murray’s resilience and experience, and may well have taken something out of the Scot – a disconcerting thought given that on Friday he will now contest the third round against the big serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic.
The young Frenchman looked anxious as he walked out to the roar of a supportive home crowd, but still received less of a reception than Murray, with fans of the world number 2 in full voice on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Murray started the match comfortably, at first dispelling any notion that there would be a hangover from the match with Stepanek, and broke twice as he raced to take the first set 6-2.
The second set started very much in the same vein with Murray bagging an early break to lead 2-0, and Bourgue’s home support must have been fearing for their compatriot in only the second grand slam encounter of his career. But then came the response. Gone were the nerves of the first set as Bourge broke Murray for the first time to bring the score to 2-1. He would then hold his serve and break Murray again to take the lead and whip the French crowd into a frenzy.
From there observers watched play unfold in disbelief, as Bourge broke to love for a third consecutive Murray service game and held serve to take the set 6-2. Murray looked rattled, perhaps tiredness from the day before was setting in, but you could not take away Bourge’s effort. When he broke Murray again at the start of the third, the Scotsman must have felt like it was Bjorn Borg across the net.
Murray kept pace with the youngster, but Bourge maintained his advantage to find himself at 5-4 and serving for the third. Two outrageous drop shots saw Bourge power to a 40-0 lead with three set points. He missed the first one, but converted the second as he slammed a fierce backhand down the line. The year of the underdog? Leicester City eat your heart out.
If Murray was going to come through another epic he had to start turning things around at the start of the fourth, but he found himself facing two break points in the first game after another Bourge backhand winner. Murray saved them both, but then Bourge hit a sublime forehand to earn break point number three. Needing a huge response, Murray connected with a quick-reaction half-volley from down by his feet, the ball sailing dangerously close to the line but landing just inside, bringing the score back to deuce before hanging on to take a fourth-set lead.
Bourge then sent out a statement by holding to love, but Murray held in his next service game and then for the first time since the start of the second set, broke Bourge to lead 3-1. That would be the turning point, as Murray held his serve to love and then at 5-2, broke to love to take set number four 6-2. We had a fifth set.
And for the most part, set number five looked a lot like the first, with Murray racing to a 5-1 lead and the opportunity to serve for the match. Bourge came back again and broke, but Murray would finally see off his challenge by holding his next service game and taking the final set 6-3.
“Mathias was excellent and made me run a lot. He’s got a fantastic future for sure,” an exhausted Murray said. “I led 6-2, 2-0, then he started playing unbelievably and I was finding it hard to win points, let alone games. I’ve played matches like this before and just tried to fight through to the end.”
“You can’t play too many matches like this if you want to go far in this tournament. I hope to win the next one a little bit faster.”
That could quite literally be a tall order, with Karlovic in the next round.